Most of us are aware that artificial intelligence (AI) is a rapidly growing industry, but can we name any meaningful examples of its impact on human life? While many individuals are quick to list the potentially negative impacts of AI, such as replacing people with computers, most are unaware of the intimately human intentions driving AI and technology innovation. To help shed light on this often overlooked and invisible side of AI, Director of Communications for Microsoft, Ben Tamblyn, discussed many positive examples of AI’s use and implementation.
Tamblyn began the talk by referencing Kurt Vonnegut’s idea of “the shape of stories.” That is, stories typically follow a curve in which characters go through a series of highs and lows before arriving at their happy ending. According to Tamblyn, this incredibly positive ending is what AI is striving for — and what he believes is already happening.
As evidence of its beneficial impact, Tamblyn shared what may be the future of drive-thrus for McDonald’s. Eventually, the aim is to implement a system that listens to orders and immediately enters them into the computer, just as a regular cashier would do. Notably, Tamblyn was quick to explain that this is not evidence of a computer takeover, but of a greater focus on people.
“This is not about replacing jobs. Instead, what we’re starting to look at is ‘how do we begin to complement the work they do and perhaps even allow them to operate more in a back-office capacity?’” Tamblyn said.
Tamblyn was also sure to touch on the ethical questions stemming from AI innovation. Many people, for example, are concerned that only the most technologically savvy individuals will be able to reap the benefits of AI in the future. However, this worry is clearly at the forefront of many innovators’ minds, as Tamblyn referenced the recent launch of new Xbox controllers that are focused on making video games accessible to people of all abilities through their design and packaging.
This example strongly demonstrates one of Tamblyn’s main takeaways; it takes patience to listen and skill to pretend you’re not listening. Tamblyn further explained that being patient means understanding the human condition and not simply relying on computers to develop new technology. Personal human touches, such as making Xbox controllers usable for blind individuals or those with limited mobility, are the key to advancing technology in a natural way without leaving our shared humanity behind.
Above all, Tamblyn asserted that purpose-driven marketing is the future of AI and advertising as a whole. Without a genuine reason behind new innovations, there is little relevant value to consumers. As he wrapped up the session, Tamblyn shared the poignant story of an individual with early-onset Parkinson’s who overcame her hand tremors and wrote again thanks to a device Tamblyn’s colleague developed.
Therefore, whether to help a friend or a complete stranger, the future of AI is already driven by people eager to innovate with empathy and inclusivity. Unlike developing technology solely for profit or mass consumption, Tamblyn said truly positive innovation isn’t concerned with numbers — it’s concerned with making something worth sharing.