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Why Mark Cuban’s Artificial Intelligence Prediction Is a Warning for Marketers

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One of the top billionaires in technology has a surprising prediction for tech geeks.

"In 10 years, a liberal arts degree in philosophy will be worth more than a traditional programming degree," says Mark Cuban, as reported by CNBC.

That seems a little crazy. Computer science offers the highest starting salary today ($70,000) says Glassdoor.

We're not sure how much philosophers make these days. But it ain't much.

Don't worry, despite his appearance on Shark Tank, Cuban hasn't gone off the deep end.

He may actually be right—and marketers should pay close attention to his prediction.

Let's look at what's going on here, and the implications for the marketing industry.

First, you need to understand something about AI...

AI is still in its infancy. But nonetheless it's a pretty powerful baby.

Certain AI systems can already teach themselves how to achieve goals. One notable example is Google's AlphaGo Zero AI system.

AlphaGo Zero is the newest version of an AI that can beat human champions at Go, a board game more complex than chess.

The first version of the system crushed the world Go champion in 2015.

The new version, AlphaGo Zero, beat the previous system 100 games to zero.

That's not the impressive part.

Humans trained the first version of the system.

But AlphaGo Zero trained itself—in 72 hours! Humans gave it a goal and taught it the rules of Go. The system then played itself millions of times to determine the best ways to win.

The result? It dominated the previous system because it trained itself. And its own training was superior to human training.

This distinction is key to Cuban's prediction.

"What is happening now with artificial intelligence is we'll start automating automation,” Cuban said.

Right now, humans have trained AI systems to perform complex cognitive tasks. AI systems exist that drive cars and trucks. They interpret language and respond to voice queries. AI routes UPS trucks and predicts product preferences and recognizes faces.

So what happens when AI can train itself to do these tasks and others?

Systems that program themselves have no need for programmers.

On a long enough timeline, AI may be able to teach itself to code itself.

Second, you need to understand what it means for marketers…

In an age where AI programs itself, we can assume many programmers become less valuable.

Now, how does this affect marketers?

Well, there may be an upcoming age where AI can teach itself to perform marketing activities.


Today, systems exist that self-optimize. A tool like Phrasee uses AI to write email subject lines without human involvement. The tool then automatically tests subject lines and learns from the results.

That's a very narrow use case.

But what happens when new systems come online that tackle other narrow use cases (e.g. A/B testing landing pages, managing digital paid media campaigns, tagging website images, recommending content and products . . . )?

After enough time, few use cases are left for human marketers to excel at.

Or, take it one step further.

What if AI systems can teach themselves to use approaches from one area of marketing in another area?

If you have AI that creates compelling email subject lines, it might be useful elsewhere, such as blog post titles, website copy or digital ads.

Now, some of the potential use cases are a ways off. But, it's possible. Which brings us to the second part of Cuban's claim:

You're better off studying philosophy rather than programming.

Cuban admits it's less about philosophy specifically and more about the skills used in it.

"To remain competitive, Cuban advises ditching degrees that teach specific skills or professions and opting for degrees that teach you to think in a big picture way, like philosophy," says CNBC.

"Knowing how to critically think and assess them from a global perspective, I think, is going to be more valuable than what we see as exciting careers today which might be programming or CPA or those types of things," Cuban told the news outlet.

Marketers, pay attention.

Forget for a moment the talk about degrees. This type of critical thinking is going to be essential for marketers entering the age of AI.

AI is going to automate some activities and enhance others. It may even learn how to do jobs that human marketers are paid very well to do today.

In light of this transformation, what will determine your success is how you create value.

If you create value by performing a repetitive, data-driven skill, one that can be commoditized, you might be in trouble. This includes highly complex ones like some types of coding or content creation.

Instead, marketers will increasingly create value by connecting the dots.

In an age of AI, your job will consist more and more of combining and connecting different ideas, approaches, skills and system to achieve tangible goals, rather than “staying in your lane” and performing one specific function.

At least, it will if you want to make the big bucks and stay relevant.

That’s why Cuban is bearish on programming and bullish on philosophy.

The first relies on replicable actions to create value. The second relies on making creative connections to create value.

And a machine can’t do the second one. Yet.


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