The march of creative machines
A view from Sairah Ashman

The march of creative machines

It's time for creators to evolve alongside AI and embrace creative machines.

Last year, the big tech companies invested in the region of $30bn (£22.7bn) in AI applications according to McKinsey. Last month, DeepMind introduced AlphaGo Zero, which mastered the complex Chinese game of Go in 72 hours with no human help. The software’s previous iteration famously beat South Korean grandmaster Lee Sedol last year, but pitted against its shiny new counterpart, it lost 100-0.          

Just last week at Web Summit, Ben Goertzel and his team at Hanson Robotics, the firm behind media darling Sophia, the humanoid robot that was granted citizenship in Saudi Arabia [image above] launched SingularityNET. It’s a decentralised, cloud-based marketplace for AI – the first of its kind – helping anyone and everyone to acquire and monetise AI services at scale. 

Things are moving fast. According to PwC, AI will fuel a 14% increase in global GDP by 2030, and by 2060, experts predict the arrival of artificial superintelligence. Philosopher Nick Bostrum describes this as "an intellect that is much smarter than the best human brains in practically every field". A mind-blowing concept, and it’s allegedly just over 40 years away.

There are some undeniably positive effects of this acceleration. In the short-term, it’s relieving us of repetitive and mundane tasks, streamlining automated decisionmaking, redefining customer experience, allowing for mass-personalisation, reframing healthcare in areas such as image-based diagnostics, and transforming caregiving and therapeutic settings through the likes of Woebot, a chatbot therapist.           

On the flipside, it’s raising ethical questions we’re yet to answer, and jeopardising the fabric of our society. Privacy and use of personal data, the risk of proliferating inherent bias, the threat of cyberwar, and regulation around accountability are just a handful of the urgent issues we face.

Closer to home, AI is asserting itself in the marketing world too. At Wolff Olins, we’re asking ourselves how brands show up within consumer experiences that are increasingly voice-based and AI-driven, as well as reflecting on how AI might reshape our working processes. 

Beyond practical concerns, there is also much to unpack around AI’s capacity for creativity. We already seeing its scope to augment our ability to meet a brief, and solve business problems. There’s an abundance of machine-driven creative output out there that puts paid to the Plato-founded divinity of creativity myth. Computers have written poetry that passes the Turing test, Yotam Ottolenghi praised recipes generated by IBM’s Watson, and Google displayed art created by neural networks in an exhibition that raised thousands of dollars. 

In ad-land proper, Saatchi & Saatchi made a splash at Cannes Lions last year with their AI-produced film, Eclipse, and more recently the world’s first AI ad awards jury president, Pearl, made headlines. In terms of campaigns, we’ve all heard of ING’s Next Rembrandt and Dove’s Perfect Mom, and we’re only going to see more of this kind of agency-algorithm collaboration. 

In summary, it’s time for creators to evolve alongside AI and embrace creative machines. By thinking carefully about the ways they can enhance, and ultimately superpower our work, we’ll be on the right track. Our landscape is going to change a lot in the coming years and in a decade’s time, aspects of day-to-day roles will be unrecognisable from their equivalents today. I’m cautious yet hopeful about the future. Given what we’ve achieved with humans at the helm, imagine what we can do together.

Sairah Ashman is global chief executive at Wolff Olins

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