Progress means that industry is always advancing, but sometimes we are taken by surprise when facets of these advances segue in unexpected ways, leaving gaps or issues that need to be accounted for and often quite quickly in order not to miss the opportunity to fully exploit a technology or process.
It has long been known that information is power, but it is only in the last twenty years or so – since the mid-1990s – that the truth of this adage has proven itself to be more meaningful than we realised.
Data is everywhere: people fall over themselves to provide information on social media, stores and shops ‘know’ who buys what and when they replace it, fashion houses can track – in real time – the minutest changes in fashions. The problem is, much of this precious resource is harvested and stored for data science purposes.
Science is necessarily cautious, and there are many ethical considerations: and most data scientists mine their data resources for specific information streams. Not only would it be impossible for them to accurately and quickly analyse all the data they receive in good time for it to be of use for marketing purposes, few data scientists are interested in the processes of data preparation: the patient but tedious sifting of bytes and bytes of data to categorise it all in ways that make it readily accessible to use – think of having salt and sugar crystal all muddled together. In order to bake something, each crystal must be checked, and placed into the salt cellar or the sugar bowl: this is a loose analogy of data processing – except with hundreds of thousands of possible categories!
We are already at the stage of having almost more information than we can deal with to hand, and, fortunately, the solution to the sorting problem is also at hand. Computers already do a great deal of the heavy lifting when it comes to keeping records and accounting processes. Artificial intelligence, long dreamed of and often fictionalised as either a supreme good or an ultimate evil, is also likely to finally come to fruition: not as any type of overlord, whether beneficial or malign, but as the supreme counter of things.
AI programs will be able to monitor and track purchases and updates in more or less real time, perhaps allowing businesses to follow the sudden dearth of dinners and movies for two, replaced by an unhealthy amount of pizza and ice cream by the gallon – along with tissues and eye-drops and understand that a relationship has ended. Using data to extrapolate that this subject group is inclined towards sociable boozy weekends away, following a break, the AI could trigger a set of advertisements offering short cruises with singles, city breaks in Europe, or even a strenuous hiking holiday in the Lake District according to the previous tastes of that user.
Targeted advertising is already in existence: it will not be long before, thanks to AI and computing technology, individually personalised advertising is upon us, maximising profitability and keeping people happier than ever.