A new industrial revolution is taking place, fueled by the rise of digital automation and artificial intelligence. This revolution is already disrupting the global economy and the way companies conduct business.

Addressing attendees during the opening session of the 2017 Email Evolution Conference, Tesla Foundation CEO Keith Kaplan observed that humans have worried about automation and technological advancement since the 1800’s. But the growth of electricity and industrialization didn’t eliminate jobs, it created more productivity and more work to be done.

Kaplan says the same will be true of today’s industrial revolution, in which cyber-physical systems and algorithms drive further automation. This technology shift will create the jobs of the future, utilizing “STEAM” knowledge – science, technology, engineering, arts, and math. Kaplan says the “arts” component is critical, as it provides a user-friendly interface to cover over the highly-technical backend.

“That’s really why we’re here,” shared Kaplan. “To connect with humans, to give them a service, to show them that we’re human and we care about what we’re telling them.”

For the hundreds of email marketers in attendance, Kaplan holds a powerful relevance. “This room is full of early adopters of technology,” noted Kaplan. “Think about some of the programs you use to gather data. They’re robots, aren’t they? They’re virtual robots.”

Virtual robots, the digital successors to the hulking metal machinery that defined earlier industrial revolutions, are assisting in our jobs and making lives easier. “But there is a danger,” Kaplan warned. “When artificial intelligence has a directive now, it wants to accomplish something. But when different bots start to talk to each other, and one program has a directive and has a conversation with another program that has a directive, they can realize if they combine their directive they can do a better job. If that doesn’t fit in with what’s best for humans, that’s where we have a problem.”

How New Technology Becomes Widely Adopted

“We could have flying cars today,” Kaplan shared casually. “But we have Facebook instead of flying cars. Because we have the technology for flying cars, but the public doesn’t want flying cars.” Kaplan said that market forces will ultimately determine how and which technology reaches widespread adoption.

“The market’s going to have a lot of say in what technology is implemented and not implemented,” said Kaplan. “And that’s where it gets messy. Because that’s something that nobody can really predict.” He pointed to Snapchat, created to share self-deleting photos, and the company’s recent $3.4 valuation.

Kaplan closed by offering a call to action for the audience. “Take responsibility to make sure there’s human connection in all of this data,” he urged. “Yes, we have to have sales and market our product. But at the end of the day, you want to have that moment of human experience.”

“And as we evolve,” continued Kaplan, “As things become more data-driven and more cybernetic, they also have to become more personal.”

For marketers, this means forging a connection and keeping authenticity in your communication. “It’s about people. Data needs to be personal. Data needs to be purposeful. Data needs to be about people.”

Holding up his phone, Kaplan stressed the power that the customer holds in their pockets. “This device is a supercomputer,” he said. “But what you might not realize is that in this device, for every single one of you, is the power to access the collective intelligence of mankind.”

This week, hundreds of email marketers are in New Orleans for the 2017 Email Evolution Conference. Stay tuned to this blog for more strategic insights from the event, and engage by sharing your thoughts using the hashtag #EEC2017.

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