Artificial intelligence: Audience insights without asking a single question

4 minute read

There was a time when I thought the futuristic technologies of Marty McFly and Doc Brown from the 1980’s sci-fi classic Back to the Future were purely a stretch of the imagination.

Yet, the unimaginable is now reality. The modified flying DeLorean resembles Google’s Kitty Hawk, wearables like the Apple watch keep track of our daily tasks and video conferencing is common business practice. 

So it’s no surprise that innovative technologies like robots and artificial intelligence (AI) play a part in our lives today – and promise even more of a role as we seek to understand our audiences into the future.   

AI has become so advanced that the technology can predict how people will feel about a topic, what action they will take next or their political bent. And the best part: we can accomplish all of that without asking anyone a single question.

Erin Kelly is the CEO of Advanced Symbolics, an artificial intelligence company that assesses and predicts human behavior. Her technology takes randomized controlled samples of an online population to help businesses and policy-makers better understand their audiences.

To be clear, this is not social listening. According to Kelly “listening to social media in meaningless. You’ve got bots, people with agendas, and platforms are skewed based on its users.”

Enter Polly. She is Advanced Symbolics patented AI technology and arguably Kelly’s hardest working teammate.

She can understand multiple languages, assess text to determine feelings and opinions, and even report the breakfast preferences of your desired sample if they’re willing to share it online – and most are.

She predicted Brexit, Trump’s federal vote count and Canada’s federal election results.

Isn’t polling the same thing?

AI and traditional polling use the same methodology but different technology.

Traditional polling uses random telephone dialing and surveys whereas AI is programmed to analyze a representative sample of the population online and limit bias that a telephone conversation may create.

The big challenge with effective telephone surveys is getting around question bias. The surveyor will, knowingly or unknowingly, influence the answer of the participant. Whether it’s the tone of voice, questions that precede or follow, or even simply asking the question itself – total objectivity can be the casualty.

Plus, with more people on social media than landlines at home, telephone surveys have become less effective with only seven per cent of those dialed willing to participate.

Is it ethical to play ‘Big Brother’?  

The Canadian Radio-television and Communications Commission (CRTC) is a public authority that regulates Canadian broadcasting and telecommunications. AI falls under its purview and according to CRTC policies, anything posted online and not protected by privacy settings is fair game for data collectors, among others.

The only restriction is personally identifiable information – like an address or a name. But according to Kelly, there’s a lot of information that can be derived from a name without collecting it. For instance, Kelly’s AI technology runs several algorithms to determine age and if you’re an Ashley, there’s a high probability that you’re born in the 1980’s.

How can the insights from AI be applied to communications?

AI assesses the online presence of a representative population. This is important.

With telephone surveys dialing in only a small sampling of willing participants, it’s nearly impossible to collect data that represents the cross-section of people in Canada accurately. Or any audience for that matter. 

Kelly’s AI technology takes a larger swath for its sample size – 150,000 people to be exact. A lot larger than the 1,500-respondent industry-standard for traditional polling. Additionally, the assessment is done over a longer period of time – typically a year but can go back to 2012.

Imagine what you could do with data of a representative sample size that provides insights on consumption habits, trends, feelings, aspirations, and forthcoming policies.

It’s the crystal ball that connects you with the topics that truly matter to your audience.  

Chelsie KlassenComment