Artificial Intelligence: Competitor or collaborator for agency creatives?

Don’t worry. They’re not replacing us.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) already made leaps and bounds in different industries. From beating chess champions to producing original music, it shocked the world as it constantly challenges what’s possible. 

Proponents of emerging AI technologies argue that they can create more effective content faster at less cost, suggesting a future where clients can give machines full rein on campaign creation, copywriting, design, monitoring, and more. This leaves us thinking: can robots really be creative? If yes, can they replace us?

What AI can do

In a nutshell, AI is the technology behind machines that can learn by themselves without human involvement. They can see, speak, move, and write by quickly learning huge data sets and greatly improving with time.

This is the technology behind Alexa and Siri that allows them to make sense of your voice and schedule your meeting, or how Netflix can guess which shows you will most likely watch by altering the thumbnails you see based on your latest binges.

In marketing, by learning your data and results, AI can suggest how to optimise ad spend and targeting so advertisers can invest in the right platforms, timing and relevant messages — more guarantee for returns. And some are claiming it to be more effective and detailed than humans’ works.

But can  machines be creative like us? There are three types of creativity that humans have according to research professor and AI expert, Margaret Boden:

1. Combinational creativity

When AI has access to enough data, it can associate similarities among unrelated words, visuals, tunes, or ideas to create a “new” output. In writing, for instance, AI can generate short-form copy and even create variations to it — adopting a brand’s tone of voice and aiming for as many conversions — just by basing everything from previous content.

2. Exploratory creativity

Need to make catchy jingles? Maybe an AI can hack it. When you teach it the basics of music composition and add in the music style of famous musicians, a machine can explore these spaces to create unique high-quality beats.

However, the third type of creativity is something that AI can’t perfect — yet.

What AI can’t do (yet)

3. Transformational creativity

For AI to create transformations, it would have to think beyond the algorithms it was coded with, break out of the system, and create previously impossible ideas.

One of its very few examples was when an algorithm redeemed itself in the Chinese board game, Go. When it lost to an international champion, it moved beyond the limits of its code by learning from the previous match, and won.

But this is a one-in-a-million case. Machines are simply unable to surpass their programming. This is why AI can write formulaic articles covering the Rio Olympics, but it can’t produce a coherent-sounding novel when trained on Harry Potter books, or how it saw a turtle as a rifle when Google researchers tried to trick it.

AI can be deceived and manipulated to reflect the biases and blind spots of its creators — a risk that businesses can’t afford.

Some claim transformational creativity as those eureka moments in the shower that seem so mysterious that we think it’s magic. Or is it? Does creativity stem from science or philosophy? Is it sacred and unique to human intelligence only? Or is this just how we cope with the fact that the robots are outsmarting us?

The case for creativity

Instead of seeing creativity as an innate gift only the chosen ones have, it can be demystified as the ability to come up with novel ideas by combining other valuable ones, or as Austin Kleon puts it, “stealing like an artist.” 

Creative breakthroughs are actually planted by seeds of experience and inspiration — not that different from AI that’s fed an algorithm, right? And as a creative director once put it, after stealing ideas, give them a twist — which is how an AI does it. So how are we any different from robots?

For now, there is no clear answer if machines are truly creative. It’s up to us to interpret this as opinion or fact. After all, it all boils down to the audience on how they will receive AI-produced creations. 

Because of this, Boden believes that while a computer can be as creative as the greats like Bach or Einstein, it only seems that way. Here’s why:

1. AI lacks intentionality.

AI-powered art is because of programming, not passion. Unlike humans, they don’t have a Why or a burning desire to create awe-inspiring campaigns, copy, art, or video, which could make their creations feel empty.

2. We think it’s unnatural.

It’s hard for us to accept them as members of society because of the uncertainty they bring, and the social frameworks they will be toppling (e.g., loss of jobs). People tend to make extreme conjectures about things they can’t fully grasp, leading them to imagine having a coffee break with a robot.

What humans and AI can do together

We can, instead, look at this from a collaboration perspective. Integrating AI tools in an agency’s workflow will immensely advance content creation to become highly effective and data-driven at speed and scale. Here are spaces where an AI-human team-up can flourish:

1. Automating the grunt work

AI can take the tedious, repetitive work that eats up most of creatives’ time. In animation and comics, for instance, it can help artists with auto-coloring. Also, software features like Auto Ducking in Adobe Audition and Premiere Pro can help video editors in automatically balancing audio levels. 

2. Innovating executions

Smart mirrors that suggest a better skirt, a fashion service that delivers clothes according to monthly trends, algorithms that personalise one-on-one conversations with consumers — these are just a few ways AI is opening doors to executions that weren’t possible before. 

Now that creatives have more toys to play with, they’re able to come up with show stopping concepts to forge lasting and memorable connections with audiences. 

3. Listening better

Creatives may fear data — but AI doesn’t. Before the actual creative process are brand audits, audience research, trend analyses and less sexy ways to gather insight. While it can be a chore, it’s essentially the backbone of any pitch. An AI can help comb through huge data almost instantaneously, buying creatives more time to deeply focus on their craft.

AI also lessens our biased, gut-feely ideas that can make us lose sight of the main goal: to reach the target audience. Machines bring objectivity that allows us to see the bigger picture, what audiences really need, and provide clients ROI.

What we should now do

So yes, creatives get to keep their jobs, but this shouldn’t be our focus. Instead, prepare for a future where intelligent technology seamlessly fuses with human creativity to lessen our stress, enhance our work and, most importantly, create for humans.

on October 11, 2021