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Q&A: The AI Effect

Futurist Tom Edwards discusses his keynote at Future Forward in May as well as his thoughts on the state and future of AI, the shift in culture and technology, and what marketers shouldn’t overlook.
tom edwards
Tom Edwards

On Tuesday, May 14, futurist Tom Edwards will help kick off the first day of general sessions at the Path to Purchase Institute's Future Forward conference in Philadelphia with a keynote titled, “The AI Effect: Revolutionizing Business, Behavior and Beyond.” 

We recently caught up with Edwards to discuss his upcoming presentation as well as his thoughts on the state and future of artificial intelligence, what marketers shouldn’t overlook when it comes to AI, and how pop culture represents a shift in culture and technology. 

P2PI: What do you think is the most exciting opportunity for AI right now when it comes to commerce marketing?

Edwards: I am incredibly excited about AI’s ability to truly personalize the customer experience and optimize marketing efforts for maximum impact. AI allows for the true democratization of data and access to insights like never before. By combining the power of classic AI and generative AI, [marketers] are able to unify data and add a semantic layer to work with data through natural language as well as test the boundaries of personalization through synthetic data to craft unique personas based on actual audience affinities. 

This, combined with the ability to supercharge product descriptions with large language models plus consumer reviews allows us to evolve content discovery as search moves away from pages of links to conversational queries. 

P2PI: I know you’re planning on exploring pop culture at our Future Forward event and how it represents a shift in culture and technology. Can you share just one example of this? 

Edwards: During my talks, I love to take highly complex topics such as the various aspects of AI and make it relatable for the audience. We will explore generative AI’s impact on entertainment, such as the AI-created intro to Marvel’s Disney+ miniseries “Secret Invasion,” released in 2023. 

We will also talk about AI’s impact across Pixar movies, gaming, “Star Wars,” “The Matrix” and so much more. We’ll relate these [blockbuster moments] to shifts in behavior and to the core reason why individuals — across generational cohorts — will adopt intelligent systems. 

P2PI: Is there anything you think people in the industry aren’t talking about, but should be? 

Edwards: I have been on the pulse of generative AI experimentation across the industry. [It has already] gone through a few cycles, from education, governance and operationalization of AI (e.g., steering committees/advisory boards, policies, procedures and third-party risk mitigation) to experimentation through proof-of-concepts (POCs). What I have seen over the past few months is a shift from focusing on single POCs to truly transforming how organizations and functions like marketing can evolve. The individual POCs in some instances can form the foundation for a unified workflow from image creation, enhancing online content and compliance via computer vision. This is where true value will be unlocked with generative AI. It will be less about the value of an individual POC and more about transformational value that impacts multiple levers of value creation beyond efficiency. 

P2PI: I know you talk a lot about AI, so in SZA’s words: “let’s talk about AI.” What do you think industry members should know about the “AI Effect”?

Edwards: The AI Effect is very real and it will fundamentally change how we work. From a marketing perspective, we have to realize that humans will not always be at the center of our marketing attention. How you structure data, the freshness of your content, [using] natural language vs keyword stuffing, will all have a significant impact on how to create relevance in an algorithmically run world. 

It’s also important to understand the need to rethink how we work. We will quickly shift from creators to editors. Those who embrace AI as an enabler, while also upskilling their staff, will be the groups that will thrive in this coming transition. 

P2PI: Is there a recent use of AI, marketing campaign or immersive experience/activation that caught your eye or really blew you away? What was it?

Edwards: I have seen a lot of tech and experiences over the past 25 years. Nothing has captivated me more recently than the full demo experience of the Apple Vision Pro. From the 3D video, the incredibly immersive experiences, the crisp motion-tracking and gesture-based interface. It truly is a transformative piece of hardware. 

I talk a lot about bridging physical and digital reality. It will take a major player like Apple to truly bridge beyond our core modalities of desktop and mobile towards voice, vision and touch. We are at an inflection point when it comes to behaviors and expectations and intelligent systems that will further enable both digital and physical experiences and truly blend reality. 

[Also Read: Can AI Build a Better Marketer?]

Edwards will cover multiple areas during his keynote address, from pop culture, content, data, mobile, AR/VR, artificial intelligence and the evolution of social media and the future of voice, vision and touch. Don’t miss this session or the lineup of excellent speakers and content we have in store at Future Forward, May 13-15 in Philadelphia. 

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