cnbc | To the average person, the billboard on the bus stop on London's Oxford Street was a standard coffee-brand ad. Every few seconds, the digital poster would change. Sometimes, it would feature a wide range of drab grays and blocks of text. Other times, it was a minimalistic image with a short saying.
What was unique about this particular poster, which ran in two locations at the end of July 2015, wasn't the fact that people were looking at it. Rather, it was looking at them — and learning. Using facial tracking technology and genetics-based algorithms, the poster took the aspects that people looked at the longest and then incorporated that into the next design evolution.
"We were surprised how quickly it learned," said Sam Ellis, business director of innovation at M&C Saatchi. "It got to a state of where it felt like it was in the right place a bit faster than we thought."
In less than 72 hours, the M&C Saatchi advertisement was creating posters in line with the current best practices in the advertising industry, which had been developed over decades of human trial and error like realizing three to five word slogans work best.
"We thought [our employees] would be nervous about it: Is this going to kill off creative?" Ellis said. "What they started to realize is that it could be really, really useful based on its insight."
M&C Saatchi's Ellis believes eventually ad agencies will be smaller, because AI will be able to accomplish tasks with a high degree of accuracy — for much less money than now — and will make outsourcing tasks a lot more effective.
As our machines become more sophisticated and more details about our lives are recorded as data points, AI is getting to the point where it knows a tremendous amount about humans. It can tell what a person is feeling. It knows the difference between a truth and a lie. It can go through millions of permutations in a second, coming up with more variations than a human could think of. It knows your daily routine, like when you're most likely going to want a cold beer on a hot summer day.