When most people think about AI’s endgame, they think about the automation of everything, uncanny avatars and possibly a world where human jobs—specifically their job—has been optimized out of existence. So, when new artificial intelligence (AI) software “disrupts” an industry, white-collar workers greet it with just a tinge of panic.
I’ve seen the full arc of the technology adoption curve play out before. Emotions always run highest in the “innovation” and “early adoption” periods. And that’s where we were in 2008, when my previous company, GumGum, which uses AI to place digital advertising, launched.
Advertising technology had been around since the '90s, but thanks to venture capital investment, hundreds of programmatic advertising companies emerged simultaneously. By that time, digital advertising was dominating advertising budgets, and media buyers were perplexed—and worried—by the prospect of their jobs becoming automated.
For those who don’t remember the '80s and '90s (and perhaps never saw Mad Men), old-school ad buying was largely based on relationships. Senior executives at media buying agencies, ideally with large clients, could negotiate better pricing based on their relationship with sellers. The longer you were in business, the more relationships you had. The more relationships you had, the more leverage you had. Deals were made over lunch, on the golf course or over the phone.
Digital advertising and programmatic exchanges upended all of that. The idea that buyers—very young, low-paid buyers—could suddenly distribute their client’s campaigns with the click of a button struck fear into the old guard’s heart. First, there was confusion: “What the heck is programmatic?” Then, skepticism: “Surely, it can’t do what I do.” Then, fear: “Great. We’re all about to be replaced by robots.”
I observed a similar phenomenon when introducing my current company’s radiologic AI tools to dentists. First, there was confusion: “It works how?” Then, skepticism: “But does it work?” Then, fear: “Great. We’re all about to be replaced by robots.” No, you’re not.
It takes some explaining throughout the innovation and early adoption periods that AI eliminates only part of human jobs. Usually, it's just the parts we’re not very good at or don't like doing, such as dull, tiring, repetitive work, data analysis and reporting and heavy labor.
There’s not much heavy labor in white-collar jobs, so we explained that AI assists people with dull and data-driven work. In the case of dentists, it supports practitioners by helping them accurately read diagnostic imaging and providing evidence for treatment plans. That gives dentists more time and energy to focus on what they’re great at—conceiving and providing individually tailored treatments with a human touch to human individuals. AI can’t do that.
I’m pleased to say AI in dentistry is getting past those earliest phases during which new technologies inspire fear, skepticism and confusion. As this technology enters the mainstream, we see more and more dentists modeling how to integrate it into their practices. They’re sharing stories about the trust it helps build, the efficiencies it creates and how production has increased. Dental AI is sparking intrigue, and that feels great—but it’s not the endgame.
The endgame looks more like programmatic advertising: technology that's changed the way media buyers do their jobs. Machines now execute the dullest parts of the job, such as insertion orders, analysis and reporting. Instead of being put out to pasture, senior executives do more interesting strategy work and manage client relationships. And younger executives are still wined and dined, just more often en masse at Malibu beach houses instead of one-to-one at Cipriani.
The programmatic bogeyman has been defanged by mainstream adoption. Now, it's just another arrow in the media buyer’s quiver.
Today, no one walks into their dentist's office and looks agog at the X-ray machine. When dental AI truly comes of age, it will be as commonplace as X-rays are. Yes, dental AI technology, such as precise pathologic detections, will lose the “wow factor” it has today, but the goal is mainstream adoption, in which excitement is supplanted by an elevated dental healthcare experience that's hard to imagine living without.