I believe System 3 will bring us to our senses

If experience was important before, it will be essential in a System 3 world

Sofia Pires, winner of the President’s Prize for Outstanding Body of Work in the 2022 IPA Excellence Diploma in Brands, explores System 3: the artificial intelligence we access to help us solve problems and augment our intelligence, an evolution to Daniel Kahneman’s System 1 and 2 theory, and how it could speed up our thinking and decision process.

In 1990, roboticist Hans Moravec claimed that we were approaching a “watershed in the history of life - a time when the boundaries between biological and post-biological intelligence will begin to dissolve.”

That time has come.

Today, artificial and human intelligence merge in ways that we don’t even notice. We ask Alexa how long it will take us to get to work this morning, we Google options for the best energy provider, we access thousands of people’s reviews on Amazon.

In the near future, we’ll be able to connect our brains directly to external computers, speeding up our thinking and decision process.

I’m calling this System 3, the artificial intelligence we access to help us solve problems and augment our intelligence. An evolution to Daniel Kahneman’s System 1 and 2 theory (2012).

By using System 3, we will not only change the way we live, but also the way we think and feel. As it powers all kinds of problem solving and rational thinking, it will also free up capacity for us to use more of System 1’s emotional and sensorial behaviour.

That’s the paradox of artificial intelligence. It won’t make us more machine-like, but enable us to embrace our humanity. 

A New Model: System 1, 2 and 3

“The most important thing about technology is how it changes people” (Lanier, 2011).

The ongoing discussion on AI is centred on the rise of machines with general intelligence. But what does it mean to be human with machine intelligence?

The truth is that we’re no longer just our brain. We’re grey matter plus tech. We’re system 1 and 2, plugged into a ‘System 3’.

This is not a long-term prediction, not a “The Singularity is near” claim (Kurzweil, 2006). A human with machine intelligence is already what most of us already are. Basically, anyone connected to a phone and the web is.

We are all being lifted.

In Kara and the Sun (2021), the main character is described often as being “lifted”, an artificial process that some children go through to become more intelligent after a surgical change in her DNA.

The story in Kazuo Ishiguro’s science fiction book is based on a non-fiction insight: We’re all being lifted.

“You're already a cyborg you don't even realize. It doesn’t feel like it because of the rate at which the communication between you and the cybernetic extension of yourself that is your phone and computer is very slow, and that is like a tiny straw of information flow between your biological self and your digital self” (Musk, 2020).

And we are not just storing information, we are also extracting new meaning from it via operating systems, semantic search and cognitive assistants (PHD et al. 2017).

We already have calendars that automate schedules and organise appointments for efficiency and flow time, algorithms that advise you on your pension investments, Grammarly correcting the flow of your arguments, and don’t get me started on Open AI’s artificial creative writing GPT-3.

The gap between technology and us is closing fast.

The same way the phone got us much closer to tech, it will only continue getting closer. So close that it merges with our bodies.

Tech inside you. Nanorobots flowing through your bloodstream, feeding you information and collecting data, just like your cells.

Before I lose you to the normal cynicism people have against scary tech, let me assure you that what you’re feeling is a normal process of evolution.

In Plato’s Phaedrus (370 BCE), Socrates bemoaned the development of writing. He feared that, as people came to rely on the written word as a substitute for the knowledge they used to carry inside their heads, they would “cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful.”

Now if you were Socrates, wouldn’t this make you feel silly?

Musk’s Neuralink is already testing implanting electrodes into animals’ brain tissue so that we can be symbiotic with AI and become artificially enlightened.

Synchron has already started human trials, allowing people without mobility to control a computer with their minds. It is only reading the human signals in one direction, but an important start for two-way computer-brain interfaces.

“The idea of logging on or accessing the Internet will disappear, replaced by constant connection. Machine learning will continue to get smarter and won’t just improve the way we extract information from the world, it will also anticipate our needs, thoughts and movements”. (PHD et al. 2017)

You might think this won’t happen in our lifetime. But think again. It was only 29 years ago that Tim Berners-Lee released the source code for the world's first web browser and look at all that has changed since then.

Judging by Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerated Returns (2001), the investment on computing resources for AI training and the speed at which AI models develop, the rate of evolution will only become quicker (Huang and Grady, 2022).

And no, not just for the few billionaires who can afford it. Similar to the revolution caused by the Gutenberg printing press, it’s pretty logical to anticipate that these technologies will be available to all, democratically (Carr, 2010).

Our brain won’t be just System 1 and 2. System 3 will become part of us.

What we know about the brain has changed considerably over time. It’s not my intention to explain it (not even science is clear yet) but I want to propose we integrate technology and artificial intelligence into our understanding of the brain and how it impacts its function and our behaviour.

Daniel Kahneman (2012) categorised two systems to describe how we think. System 1 defines the effortless, intuitive part of our thinking. In a state of cognitive ease, the intuitive System 1 is in charge of our minds, and the rational and more energy-demanding System 2 is weakened. System 1 is fast; System 2 is slow.

But this is no longer enough to understand decision making in the age of AI. Technology is helping us speed up System 2 and increasing its performance and accuracy. This external artificial intelligence is going to become so ubiquitous and embedded in us that I propose a new categorisation of thinking called System 3.

System 3 transforms the way we think

We become what we behold. We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us.

McLuhan, 1964

The impact of System 3 will be a biological change, not just a change of habit. System 3 will change our neurocircuitry and consequently the way we think, the same way as when humans started to learn to read.

Although it seems very logical, this statement is not easy to prove, since the future doesn’t have science to back it up. I’m going to recur to proxies of what we already know and guide you through my thinking on it.

System 3 will become part of our decision-making.

System 3 will act like a broker using extensive knowledge to make the decisions itself, completely personalised to you.

As future tech is described in Merge, “it knows your likes and dislikes, understandsyour habits and is able to use information to automate complex tasks on your behalf, like organising a holiday. It can anticipate what you need and negotiate with all the service providers and present me with a completely curated experience” (2017).

Here come the privacy bells ringing, but let me give you an insight into future generations, who will feel safer sharing their data. Kate Darling (2022), an MIT expert on social AI, interviewed children who told her they would prefer to be marketed to by a robot friend because it would suggest the things they want, since the robot would know them better than the companies.

In the future, System 3 becomes this infallible unconscious intelligence whom we trust to make the best decisions for us.

We will gain an intuition that never fails.

If the Oxford dictionary is right, intuition is “the ability to understand something instinctively, without the need for conscious reasoning”.

By increasing knowledge and calculation capacity, System 3 can speed up System 2 and make its thinking effortless. Rational thinking becomes perfectly intuitive.

I can instantly determine the car my family should get is a Ford Focus, knowing the baby chairs we need, which are all the child seats and sizes available in the market, calculating the most efficient motor for our trips up North, the parking spaces in our usual supermarket, etc, etc.

Our industry is fairly used to marketing to people who have it all, and now it needs to address people who know it all, who have the perfect information, an intuition that never fails.

In the context of my thinking, that perfect information is what’s right for a specific person, according to their needs and values.

Bias, conspiracy theories and fake news will be minimised by the speed and access of information and less prominent on product and brand comms than political environments.

As System 3 radically changes our capabilities and enable machine level cognition, how will the brain’s division of labour be impacted by it?

Left free, System 1 flourishes and empowers our perception

I had thought that the magic of the information age was that it allowed us to know more. But then I realised the magic of the information age is that it allows us to know less. It provides us with external cognitive servants – silicon memory systems, collaborative online filters, consumer preference algorithms and networked knowledge. We can burden these servants and liberate ourselves.“ (Brooks, 2007)

Brains, like companies, reorganise as they expand, to keep themselves efficient and nimble (Feldman-Barret, 2020).

Two phenomena that happen in the brain can illustrate the brain reorganisation when System 3 takes over: Attention and Pruning.

Intense focusing on a task can make people effectively blind, even to stimuli that normally attract Attention. (Kahneman, 2012)

When you’re learning a new skill such as driving, or intensely looking for confusing information like comparing car features to decide which one to buy, our active System 2 is “shutting down” System 1.

We’ve all felt that when we’re sucked into out Instagram feed, we miss our children calling, or when we are counting the basketball passes in “The Gorilla Experiment”, we miss the gorilla walking. (Chabris and Simons, 2011)

But when System 3 does the job of System 2, System 2 no longer needs to shut down System 1. Even with huge amounts of information being processed in the background, System 1 continues alert.

Pruning is the neuro equivalent of ‘use it or lose it’. Unused connections enable the brain to tailor itself to the changing environment (Feldman-Barret, 2020).

This means the less you use System 2, the “weaker” it gets, which enables System 1 to become stronger, more prominent.

In a System 3 world, we have access to any information we need about any product or brand we want. But we will also have a stronger System 1 that will be more perceptive than ever. We can feel more, we’ll be more awake. “The green grass becomes greener and we’re ten times more conscious of each sensation.” (Shively, n.d)

And that’s the one thing we can’t forget when we think about the future of comms in a System 3 world. No matter how much information is plugged into our minds, we will always have some coming through our sensorial experiences that will “tickle our pleasure circuits for no biological purpose but simply to give us pleasure” (Pinker, 1997)

And so, regardless the many reasons we have to buy the Ford Focus, we end up going for the Mini Countryman.

Brands must lift our sensorial perception

In a System 3 world where every product will be easily comparable, it’s the sensorial experience that can be differentiated.

This is how consumers will feel something for our brand beyond all the perfect information they possess. And how they will remember it (Pine II and Gilmore, 1999).

For brands to win in a System 3 world, it is essential to feed information to the algorithm and also to nourish the senses with experiences through System 1.

sofia pires chart 1.png

Both are important, but my focus here is on sensorial stimulation because: 

  1. The opportunity will be in leveraging what is more primal to human beings, and what will be strengthened in the newly-powered System 1: the sensorial experience. I don’t mean experiential marketing or events, nor just product contact or customer service. Think of it as sensorial stimulants that are able to alter perception, thoughts and
  2. If companies rely only on System 3, they can become undifferentiated, stuck on algorithmic battles and a performance plateau (Roach, 2022), and stagnate their growth.

As we all become fully lifted by AI, consumer choice will no longer be a fight between emotion and reason, but a balance between knowledge and perception.

sofia pires chart 2.png

To win, brands must make available all knowledge about themselves and their benefits, communicating to System’s 3 machine, but also lift our Sensorial perceptions through Product, Content and Data.

Lift the Sensorial Product

In The Experience Economy, Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore (1999) talk about sensorialising the goods, adding elements that enhance the customers’ sensory interaction with them.

But it’s not only product. It’s the packaging. The delivery. The store.

An obvious example is Apple’s packaging. The experience of opening a new MacBook is a treat to our senses.

Not only physical goods can feel like that. To promote the 16th anniversary of Gilmore Girls and the release of its reunion season, Netflix launched a campaign that converted 200 US coffee shops into Luke’s Diners (2016). So you could actually feel what it was to be in there.

The sensorial experience must always be first hand. No matter how many people tell you about it, you have no idea what it feels like until you try it yourself.

Secondary experience such as influencers will be part of the knowledge and reviews that we’re plugged into, that’s System 3.

Those jeans might look great on JLo but System 3 knows your body would fit better in another model. So leave product comms to the machine. To System 1, it’s what it feels that counts.

Lift the Sensorial Content

An imaginary experience can be physically mind-blowing, meaning capable of producing real sensations in your body.

I will never forget losing my balance just by at looking Richard Wilson’s oil installation at

Saatchi Gallery in London (2010). It tricked all my senses and left an imprint in my brain.

IKEA has been trying to innovate in this sensorial space with their Studio app, which allows you to see your room with the virtual furniture. It is still clunky but will be truly immersive once we start using Apple Glasses.

Amazon’s latest ad transports you to the inside of a snow globe and imagine the snow falling on you while the lights brighten it all. These are all just different ways of provoking actual sensations.

More and more creatives are using Dall-E and other Al tools, “Cyborg Creativity” (Feldwick, 2017) has finally arrived. There’s an important discussion happening about the role of the human, but in this context it really doesn’t matter who does what in real or virtual life. What matters here is what’s the impact on the consumer and what’s viable to the business.

Generative AI will unlock better, faster and cheaper creation across a wide range of markets, generating vast labour productivity (and creativity) and economic value (Huang and Grady, 2022).

And this is a true game changer because it allows for the creation of multiple executions without the costs. In real life or online.

The Metaverse and any virtual platform will be the most interesting territories to build rich sensorial experiences. I do love the Hydro Lola Bag that Burberry has on Roblox but virtual goods are only the start.

Ultimately, sensorial experiences can move consumers beyond the virtual product and be virtually unlimited. But they must always remain true to the consumer.

Lift the Sensorial Data

Experiences produce reactions in consumers and consequently more data, which in turn will transform the next experience. The experience changes us and we change the next experience.

For brands to unlock the magic, they need to be better at knowing how we’re feeling, and read the non-clicks, the non-verbals. And then respond adequately to it.

Affectiva is an AI company that trains algorithms to understand human expression. They’re used by Toyota to measure driver drowsiness and distraction. Apple watch obviously can track our pulse and DAIVID is using emotional AI technology to record the attention levels and emotions of participating audiences online.

All these can inform brands about what consumers need next, as in a perfect conversation. Now imagine when brain computer interfaces become a reality, data capturing our emotional responses becomes part of it. Obviously, there’s a big watch-out here in terms of privacy, but that’s another topic for a separate essay.

And anyway, it’s not as if we’re not providing loads of data already with our fitbits or our TikTok binging.

To end this section, I want to provide an example of a brand implementing this model in a System 3 world. A world where System 3 takes over a lot of the decision making, but where System 1 has a role in making choices pleasurable.

Let’s say you’re a Monzo customer.

You have signed in with a VPA that constantly scans all the available savings account on offer at any given time and seamlessly move your money to the service that provides the best interest rate.

Your System 3 is actively scanning through other banks propositions. Seems like a good time to open a savings account with Lloyds.

Monzo wants your savings too. And your loans. In fact, Monzo wants everything from you.

They have created a pretty good product. The best product possible. They have thousands of good reviews. Some bad too.

You can access all information on their social responsibility practices. They have been pretty safe, cybersecurity is a priority.

But then HSBC has all of that and is now offering a savings promotion. Should you take it?

What I described above is all second-hand information processed by System 3 in just one minute.

As a customer you have first-hand experience too through System 1. You love that shiny bright green card every time you pay. And now they’re doing different textures too. You like the satin one. A soft fabric card feels good on your skin.

And the chatbots are funny. They always help you with wit and end with a funny gif. And you love their app commentary on your purchases. “Careful when you mix the gin and the heels ;)”

They know when you’re up for a joke and when you need a bit of cheering up or reassurance, you’ve allowed your mobile to see your face. You know it’s an AI reading your expressions but still you like the ease of that human-like connection.

And those buskers on the tube sponsored by Monzo are simply incredible. They always play what you have been listening to on Spotify. You like the music and you love the fact that they are getting help with a Monzo savings account with special interests for artists.

But again, HSBC is now offering you a flight to Lisbon where your friend just moved to. Free ticket if you change your payroll to them. Should you consider that?

Ah, but Monzo, and the colours, and the buskers and the brilliant jokes. Nah. You’ve seen HSBC in Roblox and got bored. Nah. It’s not time to change. Not yet.

I don’t think it will happen for every consumer decision. Hell no. Most of it will be automated. A “Compare the Market” on steroids that will free us from the daily choices we have to make.

But the part that people don’t want automated can make brand comms a deep experience through our senses that bring pleasure to the decisions we chose.

I believe System 3 will bring us to our senses 

“Technology can motivate human choice but not replace it.” (Lanier, 2011)

The world is getting exciting. AI advancing fast. Disrupting everything. Consumers are changing and we might be missing the plot.

As an industry we’re focusing on tech, data, analytics, which is a needed endeavour. But it can make us lose sight of what will be happening in parallel.

As much as advertisers need to be at the edge of tech, we absolutely must make space for the sensorial universe of product experience, brand content and emotional data.

Our System 1 opening up is an opportunity that we cannot miss. If experience was important before, it will be essential in a System 3 world. It’s the only way to influence consumers beyond rational RTBs.

I believe System 3 can bring us to our senses because it frees up System 1 from the weight of a fast response. It allows our System 1 to sense the world as we could not do before. To feel brands and products in a more human and primal and visceral way. With all ourselves. With all our senses.

Read all of the 2022 Excellence Diploma in Brands essays


The opinions expressed here are those of the author and were submitted in accordance with the IPA terms and conditions regarding the uploading and contribution of content to the IPA newsletters, IPA website, or other IPA media, and should not be interpreted as representing the opinion of the IPA.

Last updated 01 May 2024