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Apple’s purchase of Emotient last month, a California-based firm that uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) to interpret emotions from facial expressions, signals that big changes are coming to mobile devices.

The move means that another tech giant has entered the AI arms race alongside Google and Facebook. This fact alone should have brands learning about the new technologies and integrations available to better engage with consumers on an emotional level.

AI’s capacity to respond to mood, gesture, natural language, and other complex human behaviors solves many issues facing consumers and brands, including, discovery, attention, and ease of product/service use. The big three” tech companies – Google, Apple and Facebook — are leveraging AI in different ways to gain a competitive advantage in an economy where attention is a scarce resource. As brand marketers, we need to understand that each of these players is shaping how consumers discover and connect with our brands. So here’s a look at how Google, Apple, and Facebook are thinking about AI integration:


Google’s goal is to organize the world’s information and make it easily accessible for anyone. Its success, therefore, depends on how easy it is for users to discover the information they need, when they need it the most, particularly when the amount of accessible information is beyond what the human brain can compute. We’re beginning to see how this future is taking shape:

  • Google Now recommends content based on your data.
  • Gmail’s predictive responses let users accurately respond to an email with a single tap.
  • Google Maps can now predict your destination and provide you with real-time traffic information by learning your common routes.

Google’s vision, however, is to anticipate user needs. Imagine if it could use machine learning and the connective tissue of the Internet of things to deliver contextual solutions before a user even has to think about what he or she needs. Envision Google Now ordering your groceries when it senses items are getting low or old, or booking a reservation at your favorite restaurant a month in advance for your anniversary. The future of search, according to Google, is going to be about delivering contextually relevant solutions to users automatically.


Apple endeavors to use AI to deliver on its brand promise: providing the best user experience possible. With its future being shaped by the success of its mobile products, Apple understands the user experience needs to move beyond the limitations of interacting with a small touch screen interface. The purchase of Emotient, therefore, makes strategic sense. Emotive-based AI introduces new interaction models into Apple’s mobile user experience. Specifically, it empowers Siri with a visual processing system to detect and predict user needs. Using Emotient’s technology, Siri will soon be able to read your facial expressions via the front-facing camera, interpret them, and assist you with whatever you need without you even having to say “Hey, Siri.” This is a game changer.


Mark Zuckerberg’s vision for Facebook is to make the world more open and connected. In order for a new relationship to form, however, it needs to be meaningful. Facebook wants to use AI as a way to guarantee these meaningful connections won’t get lost in an age of information overload. Its first AI initiatives involve using machine learning to improve the predictive accuracy of the Facebook newsfeed algorithm to deliver contextually relevant content (and, good news for brands, advertising). Facebook is also focusing on advancing the versatility of its Messenger platform to intelligently facilitate actions and connections through its M virtual assistant. In a recent post, Zuckerberg detailed a new personal challenge of building a Jarvis-like AI system to run his home and accomplish complicated tasks, like recognizing his friends and letting them in the front door. We should expect to see these same capabilities with M virtual assistance, except focused more on consumer opportunities and content discovery.

What does this mean for the rest of us?

In a recent post honoring the late AI luminary Marvin Minsky, Stephen Wolfram recalls how Marvin, although being a fountain bursting with ideas, always stayed true to his one goal of “figuring out how thinking works, and how to make machines do it.” Minsky focused on designing machines that could clank step-by-step through our logical style of thinking and analysis. But human intelligence is more than just computational power. What makes us human is our raw emotions and our ability to use past experiences to make gut decisions. While Google, Apple, and Facebook each has a different vision for integrating AI, they all agree that in an unstructured non-linear environment the real potential and promise will be intuition-based. In other words, the ability to intuitively “feel” what is right for an individual.

I recommend brand marketers start taking two approaches to get in front of AI integration on platforms. First, they need to consider a predictive search strategy by integrating with applications like Google Now and Maps. By doing so, marketers will establish an emotional connection between their brand and what the consumer ultimately wants and needs.

Second, brands should think more about providing consumers with high-value, contextually relevant content, versus big brand personification ideas. This is not a new concept but can be done in a new way by interpreting facial expressions into emotions. While it is clear that Google, Facebook, and Apple have AI top of mind, it’s time for everyone to be thinking about it, because the future is here.

Steve Harries is Director for Strategy and Growth at marketing firm Epsilon.

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