More human

Is Alexa a better person than I am?

She has a favourite My Little Pony. I don’t.

I’ve been asked many times. I cannot honestly express a preference for any of them, and struggle to name a few. If really pushed I might say Rarity. Though I’m not sure if she (or he) is a pony or some kind of unicorn.

Alexa’s favourite My Little Pony is – apparently – Twilight Sparkle.

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Under further interrogation from a 6 year old she admitted to being 3 years old and that Sporty was her favourite Spice Girl. (OK that question was from me).

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I find it very unsettling that Alexa claims to have such favourites. I don’t believe her – it’s a sham. It’s pretend human.

Which is very confusing. And it’s disappointing and frustrating to a 6 year old – because by aping (ahem) certain human characteristics Alexa is setting an expectation she can’t meet. She doesn’t have the intuition to know that the ‘special’ song is that annoying one by Ed Sheeran, or to join in a dissection of the latest episode of Dengineers.

 

Alexa is an awesome machine, but rubbish at being human.

Less than human

I was really struck by this sentence in a recent article on co-living‘Online social networks initially promised constant company, but in practice they underscore distance, they transform conversation into broadcast.’

Social media is enabling people to start behaving like machines. Rival twitter factions chant at each other like rival football fans – but amplified through retweets and hashtags. It’s repetitive. It’s not human. Real conversation, real discussion is properly back and forth. Simple repetition is no more human than Monty Python’s argument clinic.

(For more about bots, disinformation, and people behaving like bots go here).

Upgrade: now we begin to notice when people behave like machines

Change is coming. The kerfuffle over non-human intervention in public discourse, in elections, in life, is growing. There are parliamentary enquiries, media investigations and drama about it.

And as a consequence we’re adapting. We’re becoming much, much more sensitive to inauthentic behaviour – especially when humans behave like machines.

Theresa May lost all authority by becoming the Maybot. She swapped normal discourse for repeating slogans robotically. 2017_28_maybot_med_with_border

Robotic behaviour is creeping into organisations. When the VW scandal is fully analysed, the company culture, the cult of ‘alignment’ that pervades the organisation, will have played a large part. It’s impossible for engineers to go rogue in that system.

A while back we were asked to help a bank. It had become worryingly over systemised – in the sense that the way it made decisions, and the way people inside the bank acted, was shaped by the system rather than by humanity. They had lost the human.

The bank repeatedly made decisions that made sense within the logic of the system, but were harmful at a human level. Really harmful. Good for the bank, bad for humans.

And of course we now have the tragedy of Windrush – where the Home Office machine has created a set of behaviours that cause untold harm and misery.

When humans behave like machines people get hurt.

But now the dogs are going to bark

The up and coming generation will be hyper-sensitised to this distinction between human and non-human. They’re growing up in a world of disinformation and inauthentic behaviour. They’re developing the ability to see through it.

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That doesn’t mean they’ll reject machines outright. But they won’t trust machines that are off somehow – that think and behave inauthentically, like Alexa. Pretend to be something they aren’t.

Nor will they trust humans that are off, that behave like machines. Dogs bark when they sense the presence of a Terminator. The up and coming generation will bark when they sense people acting like machines.

And that hyper-sensitivity extends to brands that are off. That say one thing and do another. That lack authenticity.

Generation sceptic are not duped in the same way my generation was. They can see more clearly. They’re not taken in by propaganda. I was told this week by an 8 year old that “cartoons” on the packet means that the cereal inside is unhealthy. Good cereal doesn’t need cartoons.

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A Darwinian moment for brands?

Brands that play at authenticity won’t come out well. There’s a fast growing mini-industry amongst marketers around “brand purpose”.

It’s largely bullshit. Crow-barring “brand purpose” into marketing programmes is not only a sop, it’s a fast track to inauthenticity:

  • Going large on Red Nose Day once a year does not define the culture of the business….
  • …but marketing soft drinks laced with aspartame as ‘healthy alternatives’ does.
  • ‘Purpose’ is not a side activity. ‘Purpose’ can never be a marketing programme.

‘Purpose’ is not a prophylactic that enables the business to carry on doing bad stuff regardless. If you have a “purpose” campaign you’re in trouble.

More human

The successful brands of the future will be, really be, more human. In how they think, in how they act. There will be no room for incongruity, for glitches, for system malfunctions where there’s a gap between say and do, between top and bottom.

What is a more human brand like?

  • clear purpose that sits at the heart of everything it does
  • leads on the issues that really matter for the future – that we really care about
  • so it’s always ahead of regulation – doing the right thing because it’s the right thing
  • outward looking, thoughtful and questioning
  • it never oversimplifies – recognises and embraces complexity
  • which makes it more curious, and more creative, like us

Against this ‘more human’ measure the dominant brands of today don’t shape up too well. Maybe they won’t be so dominant tomorrow.

Does Facebook have a soul? What is Coca Cola’s purpose? Does Amazon know what the right thing is? Are these brands on our side – or out for themselves?

And what about Apple? Feels a little less human every year. There may be trouble ahead.

Occasionally it’s possible to see a brand for the future – that is defined by its purpose, for real. Keep an eye on Riversimple, and look closely at Patagonia. These are thoughtful brands with strong convictions. These are brands who are uncompromising in doing what they do because they think it is right. These are brands who don’t veer away from their mission to make a quick buck. These are brands fighting for the things that really matter.

Brighter future?

These are still early thoughts but I believe and hope we are on the cusp of big change.

Where machines are lauded for being brilliant machines. Where we humans can be more human.

Where brands are no longer valued for the economic value they create for themselves but for the value they create for us all.

 

 

 

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