AI models of real consumers could hold marketing insights

When his father died last year, Richard Boyd began using artificial intelligence to model what his dad would be doing today if he had not passed away. Boyd likens this to almost having him alive. “For the past eight or nine months, I can ‘visit him’ and see what he’s interested in,” he says. The model found that on the Fourth of July his dad would have read about the Air Force, Vietnam, Donald Trump, guns and gun control, and the Santa Fe Railway. He likely would have attended an event at a local Veterans of Foreign Wars post, and created a home fireworks display. He calls this exercise “oddly therapeutic.”

Boyd is not delusional. Nor is he a character in a “Black Mirror” episode. He owns his own artificial intelligence consultancy, Tanjo, and has spent his career creating computer simulations. He previously sold a 3-D gaming startup to Lockheed Martin, which he left in 2013.

In a very personal way, his experiment with his dad helps illustrate how Boyd is using AI to stand in for real humans in market research. The idea is to use the biggest data sets practicalincluding media consumption, purchase, census, housing or any other information available in companies’ customer databaseson the broadest population to construct simulated but realistic individuals and households that can be exposed to endless messages or product ideas, without them ever getting bored or lying.

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