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The Influencers

The Human, the Nanobot and the Media Agency - Advertising According to Futurism

INFLUENCER: VCCP Media's Jake Webster explores Ray Kurzweil's predictions and what they could mean for adland

The Human, the Nanobot and the Media Agency - Advertising According to Futurism

Predicting the future has been a fascination for humanity ever since the concept of ‘the future’ was invented. Futurism, the study of possible, probable and preferable futures, has become incredibly well respected recently thanks to the uncanny accuracy of top futurists. 

Ray Kurzweil is one of these world-leading futurists and the leader of Google’s AI efforts. Of the 147 predictions Kurzweil made between 1990-2013, 115 were correct and 12 were pretty much correct, only off in timeframe by a maximum of two years. These included forecasting how, when and why major events such as the explosion of the Internet, the development of computing and the fall of the USSR would occur. This makes him the most effective soothsayer since the Oracle of Delphi. 

His most recent prediction is based around nanobots – tiny robots to be inserted into the human brain, which he believes will come into existence by the 2030s. The first thing these nanobots will do, Kurzweil predicts, is ‘finish the job’ of the human immune system by developing humanity in such a way that we no longer succumb to disease – thus radically increasing overall life expectancy. Secondly, these nanobots will provide a fully immersive virtual reality hooked up to the cerebral cortex. The human mind will join the cloud. These predictions are being widely heeded – Elon Musk has even created a company called Neuralink based around merging biological and digital intelligence. 

This got us thinking about how nanobots could change the way humanity consumes media. The first thing to note is that if Kurzweil is correct, humanity’s leisure time will increase dramatically for two reasons. 

Firstly, people will be retired for longer - even when taking into account the fact that life expectancy continues to rise. If we take the retirement age as being 66 when life expectancy is 81.5 years (as it is in the UK), then you work until you are roughly 80% of the way through your expected life. If the average life expectancy goes to, say, 92, then the retirement age will move to roughly 74. Even if you assume the workforce still works eight hours a day, they still have 18 years in retirement rather than 15.5, leading to more leisure time and more media consumption. 

Just last month, a government paper was released recommending, among other measures, that the pension age should never rise by more than one year in each decade. As a result the rate of increase in life expectancy due to nanobots will quickly outstrip an increased average time spent in the workforce.

Even this is assuming that humanity will be working as hard as we are now. We are already beginning to see the capacity of AI in machines such as Watson, and Kurzweil predicts that machines will do many jobs currently done by humans. Humans won’t stop working - machines need maintenance. However, the amount of work to go around will decrease thus causing the burdens of work to change as the amount of jobs shrink and the amount of time society expects one to work shrinks. A three-day week could become standard practice. A Cambridge University study from 2010 claims this has already started happening, with average hours and intensiveness of work decreasing between 1995 and 2005 due to technological advancements. This will give humans more time to consume leisure content. 

As the nanobots sync the human mind with the cloud the distinction between physical and virtual reality will become blurred. Humans will be constantly experiencing media, and constantly experiencing truly augmented reality. With Pokémon Go we have already seen the first example of this – however if the simulation is no longer on a phone but inside a mind then reality will never cease to be augmented. Imagine driving with a mental Tom-Tom directing you or looking at a shirt and instantly knowing the sizes in stock and other shirts like it in other stores nearby. Product positioning in this world will become paramount and advertising could become ubiquitous with the very human experience itself.

The pessimistic view of the future of media is that the media agency will become a collection of algorithms processing data, churning out vast advertising campaigns. While the marketing team becomes full of data-scientists maintaining the machines. AI is smarter and better, and humans can’t keep up. Each company would be provided with the ‘optimum’ media plan by an algorithm and will blindly follow it. 

Kurzweil’s predictions are the basis of my rebuttal of that quasi-dystopian future. People believe the superiority of AI as a machine is eternal and has potentially limitless capacity. However, nanobots will allow humans to compete on both those terms by providing radical life extension and enhanced cognitive aptitude. In Kurzweil’s future, humans are on an equal playing field with machines – humans can compete with AI, and even outstrip it. 

I believe this will lead to a media landscape with three different types of agencies for brands to choose from – AI Agencies, Human Agencies and Joint Agencies. AI Agencies will provide large scale plans, Human Agencies will challenge the industry norms and look to get effective brand penetration by offsetting what their competitors are doing via algorithm; and Joint Agencies will look to balance the two to provide slightly modified plans. A new golden age of media agencies could begin, with humans and machines both collaborating and competing on equal terms, fighting for the best interests of their respective clients. 

This future may feel an eternity away but it is incredibly exciting to think that if Kurzweil is correct it could be reality within the next 15 years, alongside all the challenges and opportunities that it will bring. Kurzweil’s nanobots could deliver us from machine-controlled planning and put humans and machines on equal footing. I for one think that is something to get very excited about.

Jake Webster is an Account Executive at VCCP Media