Gary Vaynerchuk and his agency VaynerMedia are already known for dominating and owning social media. But now they’re turning their attentions to Voice AI. We caught up with Gary to talk about the massive opportunities and challenges that a future of talking to machines presents. Here’s the conversation in full:
Can we establish your views on how revolutionary Voice AI is and is going to be in our day to day lives
It’s going to be one of the core pillars of our interaction. I would say in a decade it’s going to rival the cell phone as we know it today. Ultimately because of how much time we spend the cell phone will continue to be the primary, but I genuinely believe that voice AI enabled devices and infrastructure is going to become as crucial as the cell phone in the way we interact with technology.
Let’s talk about control for a second. That dynamic between the user, the brands and the platforms (the machines/the device). Who’s actually in control here?
The software’s in control and then the device that delivers it. I mean, we have to go a little further in that question, the consumer is in control of everything because if you don’t choose to have that device you don’t have it. But once you enter that fray, the relationship changes and then the device starts the process of taking over.
So in the context of brands using Voice AI, how can they compete in this space? Will platforms ultimately decide what content users encounter?. Are there ways in which brands can maximize or optimize their presence whether that’s voice SEO or paid voice AI? What are the type of things that brands should be thinking about?
I think ultimately we’re going to get into an environment where there are apps built on top of these devices and brands and businesses and entrepreneurs need to try to become the voice versions of WAZE, Spotify, Instagram and all the other monster businesses that were built on top [of the smartphone]. One could have formed this argument when the iPhone came out, like Apple can control, Apple can make. Ultimately these platforms make a hell of a lot more money if they’re frenemies with the brands. Amazon’s not going to private label every single category quickly. So I’m a big believer that brands need to understand these platforms (whether that’s voice or social) and they need to find the right cadence and the most value out of it, while recognizing that they’re not fully in control.
There are some who think it’s a mistake to put your brand in the hands of a third party, letting the likes of Amazon or Apple speak for your company. How do you still maintain a voice (pardon the pun!) as a brand using Voice AI?
I mean, what’s the alternative, right? Let’s talk about the number of businesses that are not leveraging Google or Facebook or TV. That’s just the game. If you wanna build a brand and build awareness you are going to rent space at some point. Driving them to your environment and collecting first party data is the game, right? I think it’s a mistake to rely solely on anything, look at the biggest brands in the world they were relying on Walmart. That was a mistake. They’re going to end up relying on Amazon. That’s going to be a mistake. So I think it’s a dance and the way you win that dance, and they way I have as a personal brand, and the businesses I’ve helped who’ve won, is by only thinking about the end consumer.
So if a brand is going to develop Voice AI should it work across different platforms?
Yes, absolutely. I’m already trying to figure out how to work on Google Home Pod, without knowing anything. I’m giving my recommendations because you don’t want to be at the mercy of one, let alone two. Plus you never know who wins, right? Like, I intuitively feel like Amazon has got a real shot here. It’s really hard to completely count out Google and Apple and I still think sneakily in some weird place Facebook is working on something.
Let’s talk about some of the risk involved. It wouldn’t be technology and there wouldn’t be opportunity without some risks. One of the biggest potential risks of AI, is actually the risk of bias and negative bias. For example, many voice assistants typically have female voices unless you change the settings.
I think it’s an interesting question. I’m a big fan of intent and also understanding consumer control. So for example, I have a lot of empathy for Google and Amazon, they have to pick one of the voices or they just mash it up to create a neutral voice that doesn’t exist that sounds like a robot, which I don’t think is going to be the best use of their time. If you’re Apple and you’re coming out with your voice, you’re Siri, in essence you’re picking between a man or a woman, right? And in this highly emotional political state you have people react one way or the other. I think for me, what Vayner media is doing about it is, we’re having some interesting conversations like we think brands are actually going to have to have a voice. Like, what does Budweiser sound like? These are conversations we’ve never had before in our lives. Is that Morgan Freeman everytime? Is that a new voice altogether? I recognize that we need to be thoughtful at all times, when you only have an A or B choice, you’ve gotta make a choice.
In terms of the conversations that could happen within that device, if the predominant group creating AI do not reflect society, what happens then?
Hold on… You’ve made an assumption, be careful.
I’m not making an assumption. I’m putting an assertion that’s out there to you.
I inform the readers of this article or video, I implore them to do their homework on what’s happening with these things. If you’re in the trenches and you understand the people working on these platforms, look, technology’s heavy handedness and the conversation around it is an interesting one for me because it’s actually very simple: everybody here is a big boy and big girl. If you’re unhappy with Amazon or Google or Apple’s execution around their imposing way, you’re more than welcome to not use them anymore. All my friends who are deeply conservative who tell me “screw Google because the results that come up have liberal bias”, I tell them all the time, you’re more than welcome to use Yahoo.
Interesting point Gary. But there is certainly a need for inclusion during the development of AI because it’s so important to get it right.
Are you kidding me? There’s a need for inclusion in every aspect of our lives in both directions. I live in Manhattan, I spend time in Silicon Valley, I have an office in London, LA and in Chattanooga, Tennessee. I don’t think voice, as big a technology space as it is, is the biggest thing we need to address. The human race has things that it needs to look at itself for. I agree voice is going to be a massive platform thus it’s an opportunity for us to have great inclusion. I would argue that what these companies are going to do, is they’re gonna allow you set it up from the get. Like, it’s really easy for these four or five tech companies to allow you to set up Alexa the way you want. Everyone will have complete control over that voice’s sound and tone.
Are we in an era of predictive retail and over personalization?
Yes, I believe there’s an opportunity for that. But I’d also argue that then comes the new business and media and marketing opportunity. Like Snapchat in the face of an open, social web. So, the answer’s yes. And then, what’s gonna happen is there’s gonna be this huge opportunity to move back into broadcast, because we’re going to be starving for the opposite. That’s the human psychology. Technology is exposing us, not changing us.
It’s changing us as well, surely?
It’s exposing us, not changing us. We are using these tools and we are big boys and girls. Facebook does very little in comparison to what Network Television does. People have been curated to their whole lives. We make choices everyday. I think there is an enormous lack of responsibility. We have an unbelievable inability to take responsibility for our actions and it feels a hell of a lot better to blame technology than it is to blame ourselves for short comings and ignorance.
Stephen Hawking passed away recently. There’s been lots of different soundbites about what he’s said about AI i.e. a super intelligence that could spell the end of the human race. But ultimately what he was really saying was that we need to understand this technology and potentially regulate it. Are you of a similar mindset?
That’s a great question. I genuinely believe that we are naive if we don’t believe that this accelerates to a level that is far beyond our minds. Look at what the sci-fi movies of the 60’s predicted. There are certain things we’re not even close to, but there are also technologies that are far exceeding our dreams.
You know it’s funny, I’m a boy that was born in the soviet union and grew up in the US, so I have a very interesting dichotomy on regulation and a free market. I’m a big believer in the human spirit. I think the most underestimated thing in the world is human. We’ve been around forever and we’ve gone through unbelievable amounts of things. My question is: look, would I regulate AI today? I intuitively wouldn’t. I believe that would lead to not getting to the opportunity fast enough