The AI doomsayers will fail, and it’s nothing to do with robots

Dave King is not convinced by doomsday scenarios of AI’s role in advertising. Instead, he believes the industry can use the technology to its advantage.

In an opinion piece published this week right here on Mumbrella, APD Singapore CEO Tobias Wilson proposed that creatives and planners need to start pulling their weight or clients will replace them with machines. In my view, there were a number of flaws in Tobias’ argument that need addressing.

For many, the notion of artificial intelligence replacing human creativity is now a well-worn trope. Having worked with creative AI technologies for the past two and a bit years, and having run strategy departments for much longer, I’ve sought out, developed and applied natural language, image processing and other machine learning models to commercial problems and sometimes they can do really useful things.

But these are specific applications: translate text, transfer style, spot sharks using computer vision, make pricing predictions. Reading an article about the impending automation of creative and planning roles in our industry makes me wonder if we’re focusing on the right aspects of these new technologies called AI.

AI is a grab-bag of tools, methodologies, code, models and algorithms. Because you can talk to software or because it bears a human name does not make it revolutionary or even suggest moderate levels of utility. There are thousands of academics who have dedicated decades of research to computational creativity – including ideation, generative language and imagery, agent-based learning and more.

Just because the advertising industry has suddenly become aware of AI and its capabilities, doesn’t mean it’s recently been invented. Nor does it mean that everyone should fear for their jobs.

The Morgan film trailer and McCann’s AI-CD references by Tobias in his opinion piece are interesting provocations and thought starters. But neither of these remotely prove anything about creativity’s likelihood of being “handled, stolen or replaced by technology”.

There are aspects of creativity that are repeatable process, but suggesting that the overarching field or capability of creativity can be replaced by “AI” is like saying that writing is the same as typing. Neither of these implementations could be applied more widely than what they were specifically created to achieve.

The creative and planners’ roles cover a generalised problem space. Data models and algorithms are best suited to covering a very narrow problem space or even more likely, providing evidence that may or may not be useful to any given opportunity. A planner relies on instinct, intuition, wisdom and experience just to frame the problem. There is no current AI application that can frame problems like that and nothing like this on the horizon.

We’re entering an era of augmented imagination, with new kinds of tools that allow us to see problems and opportunities from a whole new range of perspectives. Put simply, a willingness to work with data creatively, regardless of your job title, is the first step.

Those who take the time to understand the reality of this technology, where it works (and, more importantly, where it doesn’t), will gradually find themselves adding tools to their existing strategic and creative toolbox. Throwing yourself into it, prototyping with existing models, datasets and APIs is the best way to understand the current limitations and exciting future possibilities.

Those who spout doomsday scenarios are likely to fail, not because AI takes their jobs, but because they aren’t paying attention.

Dave King is a founder of independent creative agency, The Royals and creative AI company, Move 37.


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