SSP 2018 Regional Event: Humans, AI, and Decision Making

On the 5th July, TBI’s David Porter braved an extremely hot and sweaty train journey to attend the SSP regional event on Humans, AI, and Decision Making. Isabel Thompson, Senior Strategy Analyst from Holtzbrinck was the first speaker to give her insights into this area.

Thompson made the argument that scholarly publishing has a strategy problem rather than an AI problem. The best results achieved by AI come about by thinking about goals rather than processes. Just because AI is developing rapidly, and is increasingly being adopted by publishers, it does not necessarily follow that it is the best solution to the problem you are trying to solve. Don’t invest in AI, invest in a business problem.

One theme in particular ran through the whole event, which was the need for publishers to adapt and change their culture. Thompson made the point that the scholarly publishing workforce is generally highly educated – but that organisations are not spending enough on training and ups killing staff to meet the needs posed by the data revolution. Partnerships, and a more open culture are going to be key, as nobody has all the data that they need. We might start to see more and more cross-industry initiatives as publishers recognise that traditional methods of driving usage and revenue are changing.

An audience member asked the question – “what does the next stage of AI look like?” According to Mads Holman, co-founder and CEO of Bibblio, and the second speaker of the evening, the answer is that it will actually be intelligent. At the moment, AI is good at understanding user data but there is still some way to go before it it truly thinking like a human. This feels particularly pertinent to scholarly publishers – as the same user often has many different hats, (reader, author, reviewer, teacher etc) and the suitability of recommendations will vary depending on which hat the user is wearing. At some point in the future, AI will be able to recognise and adapt to those complexities.

As a marketer, there were key takeaways that the need to create engaging, personalised messages, and for organisations to have a clear and accessible website has never been so important for business success. Holman talked about how we are essentially in an attention competition. There is a great deal of choice for users – and as a result most websites have found that bounce rates have gone up and time spent on site has declined. Tech, editorial and marketing all need to be working working in harmony to deliver an optimal user experience that gives content a chance to be discovered and read. Your marketing strategy and messaging needs to be developed and implemented with this attention competition in mind.

This was a fascinating evening on a vital topic. Roll on the next SSP regional event!