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This article is part of an occasional series from leading voices about key issues facing marketing today.

Here's a quick reality-check for the next artificial intelligence (AI) pitch you hear: Ask what the company's solution optimizes for. If the answer is along the lines of "anything you need," that should raise a red flag.

AI doesn't work that way, but it's ad tech's favorite new buzzword, so you can understand why marketers say they're prioritizing a technology that few understand.

I began working with AI as a teenager, taught in the field at Harvard and MIT, and wrote books on the subject. Breakthroughs in the field since I wrote my first book at age 16, How to Build a Computer-Controlled Robot, have been extraordinary. In many ways, our present is a version of the future described in the science fiction novels I read as a kid.

But innovation never moves at the pace of fiction. And reading today's breathless headlines about how AI will completely transform marketing and advertising overnight makes me worry that advertisers are being taken for a ride.

So, let's put aside the fiction and focus on the facts that matter to the industry today.

I keep hearing about AI, machine-learning and deep-learning. Explain.

AI began with the idea of programming a machine to demonstrate intelligence. Today, AI has become the umbrella term for many kinds of algorithm-based solutions to finding patterns in data. For example, you could write an algorithm that describes the features of a cat and then program a machine to recognize cats.

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image of Tod Loofbourrow

Tod Loofbourrow is the CEO and chairman of ViralGains. Previously, he was president of iRobot, where he helped grow market capitalization from $300 million to over $800 million.

LinkedIn: Tod Loofbourrow

Twitter: @todatmit