Nikos Acuña

Earlier in the week, we spoke to the Managing Director of the Rocket Fuel Institute, Nikos Acuña, to find out how their predictive AI platform, VELA is innovating the global marketplace. In his role at Rocket Fuel, Nikos is committed to driving the adoption and commercialization of AI technologies for marketing and customer experience transformation. Nikos partners with global researchers and data scientists to solve enterprise challenges for future growth in the cognitive world. He feels that AI and other predictive technologies will enable marketers to take their organizations to new heights.

Rocket Fuel is a predictive marketing software company that uses AI to empower agencies and marketers to anticipate people’s need for products and services. Rocket Fuel is headquartered in Redwood City, California, and provide predictive AI services across North America, Europe, and Japan.

“AI is transforming every industry by driving business performance more efficiently, providing deep customer insights and intelligence, and enhancing experiences by anticipating customer needs.”

Providing the Competitive Edge

Nikos believes the brilliance of AI is in its capacity to interpret and analyze large pools of unstructured customer data. He argues that by freeing up resources and time, organizations will be able to accurately anticipate consumer demands. In one poll carried out earlier in 2017, 8/10 marketers said that predictive AI made their teams more effectively. 

“Predictive marketing is a tool for automation, intelligence, and amplified performance. Organizations that innovate around predictive marketing are more poised to succeed in an increasingly complex digital environment and connected universe.” Nikos explains.

“As the cognitive era takes shape, brands need to build connected ecosystems in which they can account for more granular audience engagement proxies at scale. This needs to be achieved while making sense of the abundance of data points that reveal what drives ROI, growth, and deeper connections.”

“With so much consolidation in the digital advertising space right now, it’s imperative more now than ever that platforms look to the future and evaluate how their strategies and capabilities can mature as technology and consumer expectations evolve,” argues Nikos. “The platforms that will survive and power the next generation of marketing will be those that enhance consumer experiences, facilitate data governance and first-party data integration, enable AI-to-AI communication, and prepare for the channels of the future.”

Rocket Fuel with IBM Watson

We asked what the partnership with IBM Watson brings moving forward.

“IBM Watson can understand all forms of data and can interact naturally with people, and learn and reason, at scale. We have added Watson’s Discovery Service, which scans news stories every seven minutes to our predictive services. The result is a powerful AI-to-AI connection which pairs that data with rich exchange-based media signals, helping brands uncover new value and improving brand safety and sentiment across the digital web.” 

Vela

 In partnership with IBM Watson, earlier in the year Rocket fuel announced the launch of their new prototype Vela. Vela allows marketers to have a more informed view of when and where their brand will appear. We asked Nikos what makes the Rocket Fuel predictive platform unique to the marketer.

Nikos believes the brilliance of AI is in its capacity to transform back-end operations. By freeing up resources and time, organizations will be able to accurately anticipate consumer demands and put the customer first.

“The unprecedented innovations we are experiencing are rooted in the ability to find patterns in complex data sets, apply machine learning algorithms to automate tedious exponential processes no human can achieve, and execute desired outcomes in ways they were not explicitly programmed to do.”

“These innovations, when applied successfully, often have a 25x or more performance improvement on any outcome –whether it’s testing and synthesizing molecular elements for bio-fuels, modifying genetics to eliminate the propensity for disease, extend our lifespan, to selling more shoes online, understanding customer sentiment, and uncovering the patterns that create brand affinity.”

How should we define AI?

“Augmented intelligence is not necessarily the most appropriate way to define AI, but perhaps the most positive approach as to how it could affect humanity.  Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs’s biographer, once wrote, ‘The quest for artificial intelligence—machines that think on their own—has consistently proved less fruitful than creating ways to forge a partnership or symbiosis between people and machines.’ This suggests that the most significant impact of AI will be around how it can augment, transform, and amplify our own intelligence and creativity. I believe that through this symbiosis that we can continue to increase the quality of our lives  for a growing global population.”

Safeguarding AI 

We asked Nikos about the dangers of AI moving forward and how we should guard against a reliance on biased data sets.

“Relying on unrepresentative data sets makes me think of the old saying – garbage in, garbage out”.

“When we do research, we are hardwired to confirm our own biases rather than testing our assumptions properly. There’s certainly danger here, but it all comes down to asking the right questions in specific contexts. Machine learning, or any analytical approach to achieving some outcome, answering a question, or executing a task — will always be hinged upon the answer or output you want. The underlying message here is that answers or outcomes change depending on how you ask the question, the context in which data sets are applied, in addition to many other variables. All models and algorithms are simply ways to represent something in a simulated environment.”

“This is where machine learning methodologies like support vector machines can be effective because you can perpetually modify the probability of your hypothesis being correct, based on the efficacy of the data you feed it. We are all constantly updating our knowledge based on our experience, and we make decisions based on the consistency of these experiences.”

“We can overcome biases simply by iterating on previous knowledge guided by first principles, metabolic rates, and the second law of thermodynamics – which, more often than not, is a strong baseline for driving decisions and formulating perspectives on anything in life.”

AI Summit San Francisco

Nikos is attending the AI Summit tomorrow.

“For the short term, I’m personally aiming to explore ways to advance AI in marketing, and more broadly for the long-term, meet with like-minded innovators seeking to build solutions at the intersection of data, technology, and experience. Through collaborating with these individuals, I hope to form a more comprehensive view about how AI and its derivatives will impact our roles as business professionals, consumers, and explorers in an uncertain yet promising universe, and tip the scales toward informing what we need to build in order to make that future more abundant.”

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