Are humans just a string of Google algorithms?

by Tony Fannin, president, BE Branded

Are we so simple that humans can be reduced to a string of algorithms? Can I predict what you do just by mathematical computation and then respond accordingly? If these concepts are true, then you really don’t have a choice in your life. You are programmed to act and react a certain way. There is not much room for emotion or anything illogical.

Companies such as Google believe this to be true and so far, no one can argue against their core ideology. Data mining is nothing new, but Google has taken it to a much higher level. This is a company ran by engineers. If you can’t back it up with hard data, then it’s not worth doing. If it’s not logical, it’s not going to happen.

Marketing, at its core, is more emotion based. Yes, we use data mining and research to help drive decisions, but not at the expense of human emotion and creativity. Sometimes, humans do things and buy things just for the sheer joy, even if it’s against all logic or “what we’re supposed to do.” This brings me to an interesting point: Google has expanded their core purpose, search, to become a dominate player in the ADVERTISING business. Larry Page and Sergey Brin have had a strong dislike of marketing and PR people and almost anyone in a suit and tie from their beginnings. But now, Google is vying to become the most dominate advertising machine in the world. (I guess it’s okay to be an ad guy as long as you wear only T-shirts, jeans and sneakers.) They also want to get into the phone business, the entertainment business (youtube), and almost any other business that is out there. Google is expanding because they believe they can map out who you are and your behavior through data mining and thus, can predict what you want and deliver the information to you. Google does have a core idea that I agree with, people are creatures of habit. Humans do tend to stick with what they’ve always done because it’s “too hard to change.”

Personally, what I do find troubling is that Google distills people down to mathematical equations and algorithms. As a marketer, I know my expertise is based in understanding emotion and satisfying those emotions. It is definitely more art than science. To many engineers, science trumps art. Art is too subjective, unpredictable, and can’t really be quantified. I guess that’s why many have little interest in art, music, or dance. Yes, there is science behind all of these art forms, but the real genius comes from the emotion it exudes, not the algorithms of the perfect combination of notes or dance steps that will predict a hit or the perfect dance. In this sense, the form overrides function. If that was the case, all significant works of art should have been done by the engineers at Google.

I understand the power Google has harnessed, but I believe that people are more than just data. Emotions are not predictable. It’s also what makes us human. Though I know the engineers at Google will disagree with me, but I believe emotion still plays a big role in human interaction and behavior. Unlike scientists, I can’t lay down hard data to prove my point. I can only look at behaviors and read between the lines to get at the real core of why people behave or act the way they do. To that end, I believe that the “killer app” is combining the significant advantage data gives with the “art” of communicating to real people in a way that touches their emotions and their dreams. Dreams are one of the things no amount of data can fulfill. It is a pure human emotion that, at times, goes beyond logic.

In the end, I guess I am following Page and Sergey’s path. They have went against popular beliefs and anyone who says, “It can’t be done.” all of their careers. They purposefully went against the biggest kid on the block, Microsoft, and wanted to do things their way. I feel the same way. I’m not denying the power of Google, but I don’t believe they have all of the answers either. I know humans are made up of more than just algorithms. We have emotional needs, a desired to be understood on a “human level” and a driving force to reach our dreams. To me that’s what great marketing does.


About Be Branded

Tony Fannin is of President of BE Branded, an integrated marketing firm who helps clients BE Somebody to their customers. If you aren't somebody, then you are commodity.

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