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AI robots, marketing, and the power of persuasion

At the heart of UMass Lowell’s Pulichino Tong Business Center, Associate Professor Mark Yi-Cheon Yim engages with a companion unlike any other. On his desk sits a charming AI robot dog, a Sony aibo, which has graced the tech world for over two decades.

Yim interacts with the aibo, and as he does, the mechanical pet responds with ear twitches, tail wags, and cheerful yelps. The robot, priced at a hefty $2,900, showcases the remarkable capabilities of artificial intelligence (AI).

Yim’s research with AI robots

Beyond the immediate joy of interacting with a robotic pet, Professor Yim delves deeper into the implications of AI in the realm of marketing. His research probes whether AI companions like the aibo could potentially influence consumer purchasing decisions.

Yim speculates on the persuasive power of such robots if they were to recommend products to their human counterparts.

“Since the emergence of AI, robots have developed the ability to talk with people and show more knowledge. As we tend to trust them more, we tend to follow what they say more,” said Yim, whose research interests include digital marketing and retailing.

With a keen interest in digital marketing and retailing, Yim has embarked on this research journey supported by a $14,700 seed award from UMass Lowell’s Office of Research and Innovation.

He collaborates with fellow academics, Byung Guk Kim and Yuhosua Ryoo, aiming to unearth how robots’ movements might foster a stronger connection with humans, a phenomenon he terms “embodied rapport.”

Trust in technology

The research team’s initial findings suggest a promising avenue where humans demonstrate a readiness to engage with voice-operated devices for advertisements, like the Google Dot or Alexa.

Yim underscores that as these devices become more integrated into daily life, like managing household lights, the trust in their suggestions seems to solidify.

“They assume the information from their speaker might be useful for their purchase. They trust them,” he said. “As the devices show more useful features, like controlling the lights in your home, people tend to trust them more.”

“Vitality means life,” Yim said. “With a Google Dot, we don’t see movement, so we perceive no level of vitality. However, if it follows you around and responds to your voice, that’s very different.”

Next phase for AI robots

Moving from conceptual to tangible evidence, Yim and his team are setting up in-person experiments to ascertain whether this newfound vitality in robots correlates to stronger consumer relationships. More importantly, can he drive sales through these social robots.

“This can be a new sales channel for businesses,” he added. “Alexa can be built into a robot and tell you what kind of soap to purchase.”

Social impact of robotics

Yim’s interest in social robots sparked when he learned about the robot funerals in Japan, a testament to the profound emotional connections that can form between humans and machines.

“It sounds hilarious, but that really happened,” he said.

He believes that as AI and machine learning evolve, robots like the aibo will become increasingly adept at understanding and responding to human interaction.

“That might be a marketer’s task: to develop new gestures and unpredictable responses,” he said.

Potential of AI companion robots

The aibo represents more than just a toy; it’s a gateway to a new dimension of marketing. Owners can indulge in purchasing accessories and digital food for their robotic pets. This showcases the potential for a new sales channel.

Yim’s aibo, stretching out contentedly on his desk, symbolizes a future where caring for our digital companions might just be as rewarding as the real thing — minus the cleanup.

“If we really love them, we’ll probably want to purchase something for them,” Yim said as his aibo stretches out on his desk. “At least you don’t have to clean up after them — just recharge their batteries.”

AI robots and the workforce

The advent of Artificial Intelligence (AI) robots in the workplace is not a matter of if, but when. These technological marvels are making strides in various sectors, from laboratories to manufacturing floors to office cubicles. AI robots are designed to perform tasks with precision and efficiency that surpass human capabilities.

Displacement of routine jobs

Robots equipped with AI are replacing humans in tasks that involve assembly line production. Their precision and endurance allow for higher productivity and continuous operation, leading to a decrease in the need for human line workers.

Administrative and Clerical Roles

Administrative jobs, especially those involving data entry, scheduling, and basic customer service, are being automated. AI software can manage these tasks efficiently, reducing the demand for administrative assistants, receptionists, and clerical staff.

Retail Jobs

The retail sector is seeing a shift with the introduction of automated checkout systems and AI-driven inventory management. Cashiers and stock clerks are among those affected by these automated processes.

Transportation and Delivery Services

Autonomous vehicles and drones are beginning to disrupt the transportation and delivery sectors. AI-driven logistics can potentially displace jobs involving driving trucks, taxis, and delivery vehicles.

Banking and Financial Services

AI algorithms are capable of handling tasks such as investment analysis, risk management, and even customer inquiries. This can reduce the need for financial advisors, analysts, and support staff in banks.

Travel Agents and Booking Clerks

Online AI-powered booking systems offer customers the ability to plan and book their own travel and accommodations. This is leading to a decline in the need for human travel agents and booking clerks.

Security Guards

AI-powered surveillance systems with advanced recognition capabilities can monitor premises more effectively than human guards. This is especially true for environments that are dangerous or require 24/7 observation.

Emergence of new job categories

With the proliferation of AI and robotics in various industries, there is a burgeoning demand for specialists who can design, develop, and maintain these advanced systems. Professionals with expertise in robotics, machine learning, and cognitive computing are becoming invaluable assets to companies looking to harness AI’s potential.

Data Science and Analytics

Data is the fuel that powers AI. As such, data scientists and analysts are increasingly sought after to interpret the vast amounts of information generated by AI systems. These roles involve extracting insights from data to inform decision-making and strategic planning.

User Experience Designers for AI

Creating interfaces that allow humans to interact effectively with AI systems is crucial. User experience (UX) designers specialized in AI must understand both technology and human behavior to craft intuitive and user-friendly experiences.

AI Ethics Officers

As AI technologies become more integrated into daily life, ethical concerns arise. AI ethics officers are responsible for ensuring that AI systems are developed and implemented in a manner that respects privacy, fairness, and transparency.

AI-Trained Human Resource Professionals

HR professionals now need to understand how to integrate AI into the workplace and manage a workforce that includes both humans and machines. This includes adapting hiring practices, training, and career development to cater to an evolving job market.

AI Business Development Managers

Business development managers with a focus on AI are tasked with identifying opportunities for AI integration that can drive growth and efficiency. They also work on building partnerships and strategies that leverage AI capabilities.

AI Healthcare Technicians

In healthcare, AI and robotics are playing crucial roles in diagnostics, patient care, and surgery. Technicians and professionals trained to work with these technologies are necessary for the operation and oversight of AI in medical settings.

The need for skill adaptation

The active displacement of jobs by AI robots necessitates a shift in the workforce’s skillset. There is a growing demand for technical proficiency in areas such as programming, machine learning, and robotics. Continuous learning and adaptation are becoming essential for workers to remain relevant in the evolving job market.

Ethics of AI robots in the workplace

As AI robots become more prevalent, ethical considerations come to the forefront. There is a growing discourse on how to approach the displacement of jobs ethically.

Questions arise about the responsibility of corporations to retrain employees and the role of governments in providing safety nets for those affected.

In summary, the integration of AI robots into the job market heralds a transformative era in the global economy. It presents both challenges and opportunities.

As we stand on the cusp of this technological revolution, a proactive approach involving skill enhancement, ethical considerations, and policy interventions is crucial to ensure a balanced transition for the workforce.

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