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Impromptu: The Imagination Workers

For GroupM’s chief digital officer Rob Norman, as machines understand intelligence and information, people become imagination workers, and that is a whole new power

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For GroupM’s chief digital officer Rob Norman, as machines understand intelligence and information, people become imagination workers, and that is a whole new power

The rise of artificial intelligence combined with the idea that increasingly people, who would have described themselves as information workers not so long ago, are now essentially ‘intelligence’ workers, has given birth to a new work force. According to Rob Norman, chief digital officer at GroupM, if machines catch up with intelligence as well as information, people become imagination workers.

This notion has more advantages than perils that the world of automation and AI can entail. “All of us have to talk among ourselves, talk to the people we work with and our clients to understand how we apply imagination to business problems and social problems and use technology to enable and free them up to use their imagination,” advises Norman.

By his own admission, Norman is not a technologist. He sees his role as bringing perspective to GroupM clients and partners in media and technology to layer some context around the value and opportunity in the age of technology. “Because I worry a lot about people disappearing down little rabbit holes; perspective is imperative,” he explains.

India’s Perfect Storm
The launch of Jio and the data power it placed in the hands of people, demonetisation and the continued efforts towards Digital India have created the perfect situation for transforming India into a digital economy. Norman says that India is one of the major markets in the world that has the fastest growth in digital marketing, which is expected to continue for the next three years. “The Jio initiative has put 4G in the hands of 100 million people. This democratisation of bandwidth will lead to growth in devices, e-commerce, and content delivery, and hence more digital advertising,” he says.

Some of the western markets have seen advertisers revolt against YouTube freezing and cancelling ads due to brands being seen alongside extremist content. What is your view on the situation?
There is much conversation around social responsibility with fake news, platforms and content associated with extremist or inappropriate content, and these are very important areas to address. Google, Facebook and Amazon are strong and powerful platforms. This has meant not only opportunities for advertisers but responsibility for these platforms, having achieved such power. With great power, comes great responsibility.

Would you say these media platforms have not done enough in terms of accepting that responsibility?
Media platforms try hard to do the right thing but there is an expectation from consumers and advertisers. Companies like that, which have resources of that scale, should be able to solve problems both quickly and completely. I can understand that a 100 per cent elimination of risk is almost impossible. Not without eliminating free speech, and no one wants to do that. Irrespective of whether we are users or advertisers, when the brand appears somewhat tricky, we have to decide what our appetite for risk is.

If our appetite for risk is zero, we will not tend to do much. Once we determine the kind of risk we can take, we should then do everything we can to mitigate that risk using brand safety tools, ad verification, viewability, fraud prevention, content adjacency and work as hard as you can to persuade the big platforms to deploy as many tools as they can, as quickly as they can.

As an industry, we should also understand that there is also life outside these platforms and there are great pockets of engagement between brands and consumers.

You had stated that you are a bit worried about the role of journalists in this backdrop. What is your concern?
One worry is what happens to journalism when the funding model for journalism is threatened by the money heading to a few big players. I also worry about some of the stories we have been reading about the issues in ad tech. The Times of London, New York Times and the likes have run big stories that concern not only Google, Facebook and Snapchat but also advertisers within that space.

My worry is journalists are sometimes enjoying the headline too much, and not the content beneath it. Consider headlines that say brands fund terrorism. If you actually did the math and determined how many dollars really ran adjacent to those videos, and what proportion of those videos represented the whole of YouTube, the answer is, it is microcosmic.

Shining light in dark places is a key responsibility of journalists. As well as to have balance and context, and I am not sure if the ecosystem is broadly served by unqualified sensationalism.