It is true that companies like Google, Yahoo, Facebook, NetFlix and Microsoft have big research departments with a lot of highly educated and smart people who do a lot of mathematics to optimize their business models. At least microsoft, netflix and yahoo are publishing a lot of papers in the field.
Most of the time these researchers came from famous universities or have close partnerships with them.
My former university the Hasso-Plattner-Institut e.g. is involved in research together with SAP, IBM, Microsoft and Schufa.
What are they doing?
The papers are most ot the time about mathematical models to predict the future on a solid basis. Typical problems that you have in advertisment are:
- Hypothesis testing
- Explore exploit dilemma
- Clustering target groups
- Big data issues
- Online learning
- Calculating and maintaining quantiles on the fly
- Parallel execution
- Margin utility
- Non linear optimization
These techniques are not only useful for optimizing advertisment but the methodology that is developed can be adapted by other people as well.
e.g. a lot of the techniques that are used to find the best ad with minimal loss comes originally from medical trials that tried to minimize the deaths of people during finding the best drug.
The important thing is that these results get published and are usable for other researchers.
At least the following industries should use the models from advertisment:
- project management
- country budget allocation
Currently it is still a challenge to do so.
So you would say that the people optimizing advertisement are wasting their talent and instead should cure cancer or decrypt our DNA.
The truth is that they might develop the methodology to actually do so.
Getting paid for developing is a must have. Unfortunately ads are currently a well paid business.
Nevertheless I know a lot of people working for the silicon valley companies and one of their preconditions is that they are allowed to publish their work.
If you go to google scholar you might want to search for papers from:
- Yehuda Koren
- Deepak Agarwal
- Weinan Zhang
- Mark Slee
- Torben Brodt
They all work for famous company and they try to make the world better by participating in the global research space.
So from my perspective to answer the two questions:
The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads.
- Yes, this is true
- No, as long as they publish their work and it can be used to cure cancer they are doing a great job