2016 will be remembered for many things; Bowie, Trump, Brexit and Pokémon Go all made their mark. For tech fans however, it will also be remembered as a year of significance in the realm of Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Google created an algorithm that outmanoeuvred a world champion at strategy and intuition; Microsoft created Tay, the well-intentioned chatbot which became racist within 16 hours; Uber tested an autonomous driverless fleet; and Amazon introduced us to Alexa, a voice controlled speaker turned intelligent virtual assistant.

With the world’s biggest tech players all jostling for space in the AI arena, it seems timely to look at what this may mean for brands in 2017.

Artificial Intelligence is formally defined as the development of computer systems able to perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence. While this may sound a bit Orwellian, John McCarthy, one of the original computer scientists, famously said, “As soon as it works, no one calls it AI anymore”. So whether it’s Google Maps suggesting alternative routes because of traffic or Netflix suggesting what else you might like to watch – once an AI innovation is embraced, it recalibrates consumers’ expectations for brands and platforms.

Back in the ‘90s, companies first built websites as an interface to answer customer questions 24/7; fast forward 30 years and we have seen the birth of the bot to provide a human feel without the human being on the clock. From a macro point of view, it’s no wonder that the biggest tech companies in the world are all relentlessly chasing the next generation of AI architects. Ahead of the curve, Foxconn – the world’s largest electronic contract manufacturing company – announced this year that it is replacing 60,000 employees (more than half of its workforce) with AI ‘robots’.

AI has been seeping further into the world of advertising too, but not quite at the pace originally predicted. ‘Programmatic’ was the ANA’s 2014 marketing word of the year, and while the volume of AI fuelled planning and buying is steadily on the increase, it has struggled to break beyond the confines of pure digital media channels.

Digital audio and outdoor have made strides programmatically during 2016, but are still far from critical mass. Moreover, while DSPs and SSPs are facilitating greater levels of targeting, optimisation and RTB, there is still an absolute need for human intelligence to manage the campaigns and ensure quality, so the robots won’t be taking over any time soon.

From a consumer point of view, AI seems to be quite welcome as long as it’s helpful and facilitates personalisation, rather than acts as a creepy know-all entity. For example, Google Goals automatically schedules self-defined goals based on your free time, and reschedules that goal session for you if something else crops up. The more you use the function, the more it ‘learns’ when and how you work best. This is the perfect example of how AI works best when fused with human intelligence, and should serve as a best practice blueprint for brands looking to work with AI in 2017. Just because something can be replaced with AI doesn’t mean it necessarily should be.