COULD A COMPUTER TAKE YOUR JOB?
AI is a powerful creative tool; can it replace the human touch?
Artificial intelligence algorithms can now replace social media marketing agencies, paint a “new Rembrandt”, project the image of a perfect mother, compose commercially viable music and even direct ads, trailers and short films. Just how worried should creatives be?
According to Matt Webb, global chief technology officer at Mirum, an AI algorithm is theoretically capable of mining data from a brand and a brief and combining it with information gathered to solve problems. In that sense, AI could conceivably answer a creative brief, he concludes.
The reasoning and processes used to teach AI to compose music turn out to be remarkably similar.
Patrick Stobbs, cofounder and chief operating officer of AI music composer Jukedeck, doesn’t seem to believe in the divinity of creativity. Stobbs, a classically trained musician with a music degree from Cambridge, says: “Creativity comes down to immersing yourself in a field, assimilating the information of that world and recombining it in different ways.”
Musicians everywhere, he adds, learn by gaining a deep understanding of their field, breaking down patterns, analysing the effects of what they do, and perfecting and recombining to achieve an intended effect.
“That’s how we taught the AI music,” Stobbs explains. “It analyses large data sets of music, looks for patterns, infers the rules of composition and creates a set of probabilities and rules – such as, 70 per cent of the time, a piece of folk music starts on a tonic cord and, 80 per cent of the time, it ends on a perfect cadence. It then composes, but does not copy, based on these rules.”
And it’s improving and learning all the time. Jukedeck’s compositions from 2014 were received with derision but, by 2015, they were responded to favourably and, by 2016, were indistinguishable from that of a human being.
Jukedeck is capable of producing unique compositions in seconds, tailored to the mood, taste or genre selected by the user. They largely grace YouTube videos but have started being used by brands such as Sotheby’s and Coca- Cola ( in Mexico). The start-up has recently signed a deal with a major advertising network.
But there’s no need for creatives to panic. Not for the next 30 or 40 years, anyway, according to Stuart Waplington. He is chief executive of Happy Finish, a creative tech and content studio with its own “creative AI” division.
“At this point, AI algorithms are still not capable of solving unbounded problems. They cannot, for example, sit down with blank paper and produce copy for you. However, within certain parameters, an AI can solve problems better than a human being,” he says.
And it would be a mistake to think that the ideas and work coming from AI are purely sterile and derivative. “It’s not creative in a human sense, but it has its own otherworldly style,” Waplington says.
Still, creating “The Next Rembrandt” with the aid of AI for ING proved to Bas Korsten, creative partner at J Walter Thompson Amsterdam, that the human ability to think critically is still very much needed. “I’m not worried about losing my job any time soon,” he says. Creative collaborators The team at Happy Finish view their AI creations as collaborators. Assistants that make the impossible possible and improve the creative process.
“We use AI as a basis for personalising a campaign, for example, or we use it as a production tool or creative assistant,” Waplington says. “The best work from AI comes from when it is used collaboratively.”
Without AI, campaigns such as Dove’s “Perfect Mom” (see box) or “The Next Rembrandt” wouldn’t have been possible.
Perhaps a skilled impersonator of the great Dutch masters could have created “the next Rembrandt” based on experience, but the painting wouldn’t have held the same allure because it would have been created by a person who is not Rembrandt. AI is a tool and, by studying and assimilating Rembrandt’s work, it has, in a sense, taken in and recombined the soul of the artist.
Korsten says: “All 80 billion pixels in the painting were Rembrandt pixels. All, at one time or another, painted by Rembrandt. We didn’t truly create something new – we recombined. We tried to get into his skin and his hands and create something he could have created.” Even McCann Worldgroup Japan’s “AI creative director” could not function without human beings. “It cannot direct everything from idea generation to editing,” Shun Matsuzaka, the creative planner behind AI-CD, admits. “It can only give the big creative direction at the very beginning, based on the client’s creative brief.”
To translate the creative brief, clients were asked to fill in a specific form designed for the algorithm. A human creative team would then manage the production process based on the big idea provided by AI-CD.
While Korsten can’t envisage an AI creative, he can potentially see one as a creative director. “You could feed the machine everything and it could judge on effectiveness,” he says. “As a judging mechanic, I would be interested to see it in action.” Creativity adapting to AI Already, when it comes to online marketing, AI algorithms such as Albert by Adgorithms are capable of rapidly testing different creative combinations and optimising for effectiveness.
Courtney Connell, marketing director at Cosabella, an online lingerie company that has replaced its social marketing agency with Albert, says that the technology has completely changed her team’s creative process.
She explains: “Instead of giving the AI a set creative focus, we provide different elements. Albert then tests different copy with different photos and spends the first couple of weeks optimising. Once he’s optimised your campaigns, he’ll start to make his own.”
The hardest thing to grasp, Connell says, is that Albert doesn’t view people the way people do: “Humans are far more unsubtle.”
Take, for example, the backlash in China over targeted ads by BMW on WeChat two years ago. Some consumers were outraged at being judged “too poor” to view ads by BMW when the social platform rolled out the ads.
“I would say that humans contaminated the algorithm,” Connell comments. “Humans created those parameters and think they [made] the right decision.”
Albert, she continues, doesn’t base his targeting on anything so crude as demographics or income but “microreactions he notices about a person”, Connell says. “How they interact, what they are clicking on, what they engage with.”
“It’s possible that machines can read human emotions better than humans,” Alastair Green, executive creative director at Publicis agency Team One, observes. His team set out to create a film for the Saatchi & Saatchi New Directors’ Showcase that was shot entirely by AI. The film, “Eclipse”, was screened at Cannes last year alongside 19 others directed by humans.
Green says: “We humans sat back and let the machines do the casting. We had all internalised our favourite
AI- CD: McCann’s ‘AI creative director’ comes up with the big idea
‘Eclipse’: the film was directed by AI technology, which used ‘emotional data and motion’ to make casting decisions
‘The Next Rembrandt’: ‘recombined’ the artist’s work