Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Salesforce Purchases Deep Learning Artificial Intelligence Vendor MetaMind: Yeah, That's a MarTech Trend

It’s worth a brief note to record that purchased artificial intelligence vendor MetaMind on Monday. There aren’t many details available: in the announcement, MetaMind founder Richard Socher said Salesforce will use its technology to "automate and personalize customer support, marketing automation, and many other business processes." In a way, that vagueness is exactly what’s most interesting about the deal: it supports the notion that AI will be embedded in many system features rather than limited to a handful of specific tasks.

This vision of pervasive AI is how I personally expect the industry to develop. The cumulative impact will be to make all aspects of marketing more effective as treatments are tailored more precisely to individual customers and contexts. You can also see this as making marketers more productive in the sense of letting them generate more individualized customer treatments per work hour. Those benefits are two sides of the same coin.

Regarding MetaMind itself: I never explored the system in detail but the Web site shows it could do both visual and text analysis. That’s intriguing because those tasks were traditionally handled by highly specialized systems using very different techniques.  But general purpose "deep learning" systems that can be tuned for multiple uses are becoming more common, so MetaMind serves as an example of industry trends rather than a fabulous exception. This flexibility makes it a good choice for Salesforce to use as a foundation for all sorts of AI-based enhancements to its products. It’s safe to assume that other major platform vendors will follow a similar path.

One possible implication to consider is whether pervasive AI could serve as a catalyst for the long-expected martech industry consolidation. The argument would be that a general purpose AI engine allows enhancements across many different marketing functions, so there is scale economy for vendors who can use one AI tool. Presumably there would also be some marketing effectiveness/productivity benefit from having a single AI engine that could share its intelligence across different applications, rather than having each function develop insights independently. I’m by no means convinced this is truly what will happen but it’s something to think about.

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