Strange Bedfellows: The Future of AI and Creativity
The debate between art and science in advertising has been around about as long as the industry itself. When technological advancements change the way people live, behave, and consume, the ad industry has always had to respond in kind. The digital era has brought about the most permanent and fundamental change. For marketers, communication now needs to be authentic, personalized, relevant. But the digital revolution has also brought upon a new reality in how marketers create. When creators have a box of shiny new toys to play with, chatter often rises up from those who fear the human element is being tragically eliminated—and marks the death knell of the industry as we know it.
A peek at the schedule in the early days of Cannes Lions is evidence this conversation is not going anywhere. If anything, the stress is being felt even more acutely—likely due to the rise of artificial intelligence. The internet may have helped marketers speak directly to consumers at the speed of light, but it couldn’t deduce on its own. Is AI a tool for creatives to utilize to do great work, or a threat to their very existence?
This question was on the mind of Natasha Jen and Mario Klingemann, panelists on Monday’s talk at Cannes Lions titled “Accelerating Creativity in the Age of AI.” Jen comes from the “art” side of this age-old debate, but as a sign that things are beginning to meet in the middle, Jen sees the positives AI has brought to creatives. On one hand, machines’ ability to handle some more mundane human tasks more broadly gives creatives more mental capital to spend on inspiration and creation. For Jen, AI’s role in creativity presents philosophical questions, not paradigm-changing or existential ones.
“The ultimate question is still what we are making,” Jen said. “It’s that ‘what’ that makes it special, that’s at the heart of creativity. And that ‘what’ has a lot of layers to it…and we’re really beginning to question what we’re doing here.”
The “what” might be what people eventually see—the end product—but the “how” can be just as important. Part of what draws us to great art is the knowledge that another human or group of human beings got an idea, a kernel of inspiration, and turned it into something beautiful, meaningful, exciting. We wonder: how did they do that? Where did they think of that?
“I have this thing I fear sometimes, that we are not as creative as we think,” Klingemann, an artist who works with data and algorithms said. “We cannot really create something from nothing. We have to have impulses in us that trigger something that then connects in our head.” And Klingemann often finds AI and machines can be the ones that provides the key bit of insight, spurring the creative process ahead. AI’s ability to detect patterns in complex data—an ability that surpasses the human mind and will only continue to improve—can reveal truths that we otherwise would not have known.
“[We can] find things lost in time,” Klingemann said. “Using these pattern recognition methods, we can almost goldmine the past and previous creations, not just to copy them but add something new to them; give them a new twist.”
One potentially new wrinkle to the debate between technology and creativity that machine learning has unearthed is the question of authorship. It is not something to be taken lightly. Though we all say we want to be selfless beings, we understandably want credit for the work we do. Artists and creators are no different. But what happens when a machine played a key hand in the creative process—whether it was the actual creating or the inspiration behind it?
“It gets into a kind of really blurry area now,” Jen said. “Primarily, all the stuff that we see in the world is still generated mostly by human beings, with or without AI assistance. In that sense, we’re still the author of the stuff that we’ve put out.” Jen also wonders what happens in a future where people misuse technology for nefarious reasons, noting that it then becomes about who is responsible rather than who the author is. Klingemann, though looks at AI and machine learning technology as instruments. “If you’re a pianist that plays something by Beethoven, you wouldn’t say the piano is the author,” he said.
As AI’s popularity grows and practical applications of it become more mainstream, chatter about where it can replace humans will heat up. Many people are skeptical that AI will ever be able to match the creative abilities humans possess, but we also shouldn’t underestimate AI’s future. It is people, after all, who program machines and teach them to perform these tasks. It’s why Tham Khai Meng, Ogilvy’s Chief Creative Officer, thinks AI’s popularity will mean more demand for storytellers than ever. Irony, humor, conflict are the devices that connect with people emotionally, and it’s that emotion which drives engagement. And whether the creator uses the device herself or programs a machine to do it, that appeal to human emotion must be considered in order for impact to be felt.