Thursday, November 16, 2023
Now that the pandemic is mostly in the rear-view mirror, it’s easier to take a second look at what we sped past in the last couple of years. Without doubt, the pandemic created the biggest shift towards more automation, faster digital transformation, and exponential leaps in robotics and artificial intelligence. Estimates around investment in robotics and supply chain automation hovers around the $250 billion mark for just 2023. And the global adoption rate is set to increase to 70%+ by 2025.

So, when you have this level of automation, you can be sure that there will soon be a slew of people whose sole task will be to manage this ever-growing non-human workforce. Are you ready to manage a group of robot assistants? Not sure if you’re aware of this, but the pandemic-fueled isolation and digital transformation has led to the rise of robot-dependents – people who feel emotionally connected to chatbots or robots. I’m not kidding. This is a real thing. How quickly did robots transition from anxiety-inducing entities to familiar everyday support systems that bring a sense of calm and safety? 


When you think about it, autonomous robots range from innocuous chatbots to the Roomba to even aerial drones. There are more of them around than many of us can comprehend. They’re no longer the stuff of science fiction, but increasingly ubiquitous objects that deliver significant value. They no doubt improve the speed and accuracy of routine operations and add efficiency while working alongside humans.

They’re increasingly deployed in dangerous situations like nuclear plants or to track and diffuse land mines. Judging by the speed of things and how every organization is glued to scaling, it won’t be long before bots are life companions. Now imagine encouraging, criticizing, or mentoring bots. We’ll soon have to develop language, etiquette, and protocol around all this. Let’s begin by translating eye rolls. 

Now fast forward to the reality of contactless delivery and automated transportation, and suddenly we need to figure out how to reengineer our roads to accommodate for their increased presence around us, especially in cities. It’s only a matter of time before driverless cars and delivery robots will be jostling for road space alongside bikes and scooters. Are city planners thinking about this? Typical to technology, automated vehicles (AVs) will make some jobs redundant and create some new ones.

Today’s truck driver or Uber driver will have to transition to an AV specialist. Someone who manages automated vehicles and customer service in Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) offerings. New roles will emerge like AV Service Mangers, AV Deployment Specialists, AV Technicians…. Can you see where this is going? The good thing is, AVs will also make mobility more equitable and accessible.

Think of seniors, people with disabilities, even children will have greater access to independent transportation. And let’s also consider the potential drop in road accidents – if things go as cited. Removing human error from road accidents can have a significant impact on everything from life to insurance costs. What about parking lots? Dare we hope that they’ll turn into green spaces within cities? Especially since AVs can drive themselves to their own pens. 

Among the most compelling lessons of the pandemic is the impact of artificial intelligence (AI). Estimates suggest that over 50% of companies accelerated their AI adoption plans because of the Covid crisis. And Big Tech has clearly doubled down on this in the last few years. From a marketing perspective, the hope is that AI is going to help us narrow in on the ‘why’ and not just the ‘what’ in terms of people’s behaviour.

Speculation, of course, is very high with large language models like Open AI’s Chat GPT. Even though Chat GPT can scan the entire internet in a matter of seconds, it cannot (yet) connect outlying dots to create a fresh perspective on a human insight.

So, I doubt very much that Copywriters are about to disappear. But the potential for AI to iterate and optimize copy in bulk digital ads, and add personalization, can be a real game changer. Ad tools like Meta’s Advantage+ lets AI choose audiences and creative assets, and Google’s Performance Max decides how to distribute the ad spend across its properties. So, if targeting and audiences are going to be taken care of by AI, what else will the age of automation bring?

Another quick glance into the rear-view mirror throws up one of the most talked about fallouts of the pandemic - information epidemic. Especially the dubious kind. No one seems to know if the information they’re consuming is indeed true or factual. Things got so bad the World Health Organization held its first ‘Infodemiology Conference’ in 2020.

Misinformation and disinformation are by no means restricted to scientific or health-related topics. Indeed, technology has helped to weaponize information. Disinformation thrives in societies where systemic inequality and deep-seated discrimination is rampant. When everyone is a content generator, it’s easy for bad actors to twist misinformation (someone who got facts wrong accidentally) to disinformation (creating false information).

In today’s environment where people are ready to jump to the nearest conclusion without much thought or debate, it undermines some basic principles we collectively accept and agree upon. It’s scary to think how easy it is to tear apart any society with disinformation, immaterial of where it is. Ultimately, trust will be the most valuable asset anyone, individual, or organization, can have. And if you haven’t guessed it yet, pro-truth influencers are a thing too. 

Which brings me back to the question - who then has the responsibility to ensure trustworthiness, inclusivity, and sustainability in our breakneck speed for technology triumphs? Thankfully some people across the pond are taking this a bit more seriously than the rest of us in North America. A European Commission initiative aims to reimagine, reshape, and re-engineer the internet and it’s called the Next Generation Internet (NGI). It funds innovative research to develop a safer, more transparent, and inclusive internet for all. Wishful thinking? I hope not.

Despite the handwringing, there’s no doubt that technology will move faster than people, or policy. So, where should the guardrails be? And who gets to decide that? And where’s the crystal ball that can see what’s in store? When we started playing hockey no one thought about the need for helmets. In fact, it took about a hundred years before helmets were mandated in hockey. How long do we wait before we get protection from the trauma of technology?

Abut The AuthorZach Abraham

Zach has spent over 25 years in the advertising and marketing industry in a leadership position. Prior to starting Us Communications, he was Associate Creative Director at Anderson DDB responsible for all the Digital and DTC work produced by the agency. Zach has won several awards for creative excellence including the London International Advertising Award, The New York Festival and RSVP among others.
Thursday, November 09, 2023

“Why’d you call me?”

Asking the question was my friend and one of my many journalistic mentors, Ernest Hillen. 

I’ll get to the answer to his question in a moment, but first, in case you don’t know, here’s how Wikipedia describes Ernest: 

 Ernest Hillen
“A longtime editor with Saturday Night, he became best known for two memoirs which he published in the 1990s about his childhood experiences during World War II. Hillen was born in the Netherlands in 1934 as the child of a Canadian mother and a Dutch father, and the family moved to West Java, Indonesia when he was a child. However, following the Japanese occupation of the Dutch East Indies in 1942, the family was confined to detention camps for several years.  After the war ended the family moved between Canada, the Netherlands and Indonesia for several years until the 1950s, when Hillen moved to Toronto.”

I met Ernest when I was new to the magazine industry; we worked on a publication called Influence then went separate directions but remained close. 

He’s in his 80s now and lives in Cambridge Ont., and Ernest is literally the reason my wife Helena and I keep a landline. True fact. Phone conversations with Ernest seldom clock in at less than an hour and who likes to talk on a cell that long?

Here’s why I’m telling you about Ernest. 

Last Monday afternoon, at about 2:00, I realized I had a few spare hours so figured it was time to start reading the entries in this year’s Canadian Online Publication Awards (COPAs). 

I’m a judge in two categories and feel privileged indeed. I get to immerse myself in a whole pile of some of Canada’s finest reporting and writing and frankly, I have a hard time thinking of any activity I’d rather do.  


I love making it, reading it, talking about it. Defending it. 

What’s not to like about being a judge in the COPAS?

(Quick aside, in a work meeting last month, my writer/editor colleague Amanda Jerome advised that if you have a task to perform that you’re putting off, you can radically reframe the job by  instead of saying, “I’ve got to” do this job, try “I get to” do this job. Take Amanda’s theory out for a test spin. It’s powerful.)

I get to judge these stories 

PLUS it’s a duty. Which means I must ignore other, less important chores. Here’s me, Monday, shortly after lunch, to Helena: “Sorry darling, the trip to Winners can’t happen. I really should get to those COPA stories. Duty calls.”

I never actually said “duty calls.” I hope I’d never sink to such a cliché unless I was playing with it, as in “Cat litter needs changing! Doody calls.” Like that.

Where was I? Oh right.  Calls.  To Ernest.

First thing I did when I started judging Monday was pick up the landline and dial Ernest because, well, because I’m a writer and that’s what we do when we’re facing a deadline. Find a distraction. 

So here’s what I told Ernest when he asked “why’d you call me?”

“Thing is, Ernest, I just started judging stories in the Canadian Online Publication Awards competition and frankly, there’s certain times when I just hope and wish and pray that I’ll get a phone call from somebody who will ask ‘what are you up to?’ and I’ll be like, ‘sorry you caught me at a bad time. I have to read some more of Canada’s finest journalism because I’m a judge in this national competition.

“That sounds impressive, doesn’t it?”

I continued, at Ernest: “Have you any idea how much great stuff is being reported out there? All over the place, by large outfits, tiny outfits, students? Until you get involved like this, you lose all perspective and you’d think journalism’s drying up or something, and you’d be dead wrong. It’s flourishing. You just have to know where to look.

“Some of these online publications are not-for-profits while others seem very profitable indeed and you know the best part Ernest? 

“They remind us how important everybody is; how one person’s concerns are as serious as the next’s. Like say if you’re having a hard time finding daycare in Nanaimo and you’re afraid you won’t have enough money for rent, that’s as worrisome for you as some guy who has been told his cat’s dying or somebody whose mom is in a questionable nursing home or whose son is being sent off to war.  That’s what this kind of journalism does, Ernest. 

“You’d love it!

“And the young journalists! They’re doing such amazing work. They do way more research and go further indepth than I ever did. They do better work, too. I’m glad I’m not competing with them.”

Oh wait. I think I and the publication I work for, Law360 Canada, might be competing in a category or two. So never mind that last part.
And maybe I didn’t say those exact words when talking to Ernest. I wasn’t taking notes or recording. 

But that was certainly my message.

It is a privilege to judge.  I do love every moment of judging. 
But just because you love something doesn’t mean you can’t procrastinate, like I did with considerable success by calling Ernest on Monday afternoon. Cuz you can bet the call didn’t end there.
Ernest and I were on the phone for 57 minutes. 

He’s a journalist, for my (Pete’s, get it?) sake. At work or in everyday conversation, people like Ernest work diligently at finding new, helpful and interesting methods to discuss ideas using language and communicative tricks in wholly innovative ways.  

It’s what we do. And that’s what makes judging so damn wonderful. 

I just had a terrific idea for a new category for next year’s COPAs. 

The competition would be Olympian.

Best Procrastination Techniques 

Details to follow.

About the Author: Peter Carter


Toronto writer/ editor/ one-time magazine owner and publisher---35 years experience in Canadian magazines; currently Analysis Editor at Law360 Canada; an online daily news source for Canadian lawyers; Winner of Best Business Blog at COPAs 2014 for Pete's Blog&Grille; National Magazine Awards finalist; accordion player and motorbike enthusiast.

About Me
Guest Blogger
This is a guest column for the COPA judges so they can share some of their wisdom with the industry. The COPA Judges are the who's who of the publishing industry in Canada.  COPA Judging Panel Link 
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