Design outputs made by AI are real. Computational creative is here. Artificial intelligence is not a foreboding future, it is already the present, and resistance is embarrassing. Advertising is facing an existential crisis fueled by denial and intransigence, and traditional agency CEOs generally regard the machinery around them as alien technology capable of an extinction event. Like every business sector, advertising has been haunted by robots rampaging through departments, decimating jobs, lives and ultimately the life force of the industry: creativity.
A therapist might call this catastrophizing, but I’d call it something stronger. There is an iota of truth within the hysteria, that campaigns by once-revered pioneers of business transformation are being outperformed by machines. But until these leaders fully appreciate this new terrain rather than try to shape it in their image, more agencies will fail, and more brands will lose relevance.
There are four key indicators of AI appreciation every creative should strive for.
Acceptance: They are already among us
Look across your desk. How many in your department have already been assimilated? The truth is, everyone, whether you like it or not. Computational creative—that is, creative outputs made by an AI—already feature heavily among the daily patina of communications. AI will have produced and influenced the copy, images, video and music of billions of personalized direct response ads, concepts so familiar that consumers rarely know AI was involved.
Elon Musk recently responded to a tweet from the New Scientist, not realizing it was programmatically generated by Echobox, an AI-powered social media content creator. But in this instance, AI is merely helping brands and agencies operate more efficiently, essentially a weak application of a technology with such a massive potential. However, there are countless examples of startup businesses looking at embedding AI into creativity more meaningfully. The services from companies like Picasso Labs, Firedrop, Zo, Spirable and Jukedeck are the true pioneers, helping by automating the drudge of multiplatform marketing.
Liberation: AI will set you free
AI allows leaders to spend more time thinking of innovative ideas that can move their brand forward. Although AI will have the biggest impact on the agency business model, creating leaner clusters of talent overseeing a suite of bespoke automated applications. But note that machines will scale human thinking; they won’t do the ideation and original thinking for us.
Networked agencies often view AI merely as an efficient cost-saving device to tackle declining margins and consolidation. They will be the first to fall. As the combined human and AI processes become more established, agencies will use the efficiencies gained to liberate their talent to spend more time on what they do best: creating. Roles and hierarchies will change, but the streamlined industry that emerges will have one currency alone: ideas.
Redemption: AI will enable, not kill
AI creates a halo effect of human strengths. Our insight, emotion, experience, expression, aesthetics, culture, optimism, passion, independence and personal context are unique, and our industry will always feed from them. The dream of AI being used alongside creativity isn’t new. David Cope is a composer who began creating music from AI in 1981, over 25 years before Jukedeck was established. Now the technology is sufficiently available and easy to access that it can be applied in day-to-day processes. Moving AI out of the realms of the obscure and inaccessible, such as a single composer, to the masses, like Jukedeck, has enabled an entire generation of creatives to use musical AI.
Currently there is no machine sentient enough to connect abstract ideas and turn them into something culturally relevant and exciting. Even when we get to artificial general intelligence, the term used for a machine that can perform the full range of intellectual tasks equivalent to a human, creativity will be low on the list of priorities. Most networked agency experiments to harness AI for creating big ideas that incite emotion have fallen flat or are mere PR stunts. The reality is often an expensive cloud-based filing cabinet for timesheets and historical campaigns, albeit with a cute name.
Atheism: Creativity is not a higher being
The armed neutrality against AI and creativity is an illusion. While that war may be lost, it has never been a more exciting time for an agency creative with an open mind. Creativity as a concept is rapidly evolving under the rampant demands of instant, multi-platform, personalized communications. AI can scale ideas faster and more efficiently than any human. Robots can write—deal with it, and edit with them. Your AI will ensure your ads impact millions more consumers that you could have ever hoped. Read about AI and technology beyond how it affects advertising. Advertising is full of talent that’s great at solving big abstract problems—and the world has a lot of problems to solve.
There is no real battle between efficiency or empathy, algorithm or aesthetic. They are not exclusive. Creativity can become more powerful and more resonant with AI, but that’s not the end of the big idea; it’s the beginning of new, even bigger universally expanded ideas. Combining new innovative and creative thinking is our industry lifeblood, so declare peace on AI for better work, and by extension, a better world.