The Art of Automation

In this guest post, Antony Giorgione, talks about the divide between automation and human-generated creative content and how the less creative should start worrying about being replaced.

Which image is the fake Rembrandt? On the left is a detail from ‘An Elderly Man in a Cap’. Though it bears Rembrandt’s signature and was painted during the 17th Century it has been reappraised by critics as the work of one of his contemporaries, deliberately rendered in the master’s style.

On the right is a detail from ‘The Next Rembrandt’ – a computer-generated image derived from the analysis of over 168,000 fragments of Rembrandt’s actual work. Its creation is described:

“The process to create the finished 3D-printed painting took over 18 months, following painstaking work involving a team of data scientists, developers and Rembrandt experts.

Analysis of Rembrandt’s work helped experts arrive at the ideal subject for the new portrait, a Caucasian male aged between 30 and 40, with facial hair, wearing black clothes with a white collar and a hat, facing to the right.

A facial-recognition algorithm learned Rembrandt’s techniques, pixel data helped the computer mimic brushstrokes, and an advanced 3D printer brought the painting to life using 13 layers of ink.”rembrandtfake

Now consider these two radio scripts;

Denny’s Corporation on Monday reported first-quarter profit of 8.5 million dollars. The Spartanburg, South Carolina-based company said it had profit of 10 cents per share.

The results beat Wall Street expectations. The average estimate of four analysts surveyed by Zacks Investment Research was for earnings of 9 cents per share.

The restaurant operator posted revenue of $120.2 million in the period, also beating Street forecasts. Three analysts surveyed by Zacks expected $117.1 million.

Denny’s shares have risen nearly 6 percent since the beginning of the year. In the final minutes of trading on Monday, shares hit $10.90, a climb of 61 percent in the last 12 months.


Denny’s Corporation notched a grand slam of its own in the first quarter, earning a better-than-expected ten cents a share, as restaurant sales jumped by more than 7-percent. Operating revenues topped $120 million. Adjusted net income jumped 36 percent to $8.7 million.

Denny’s is one of the nation’s largest full-service restaurant chains. The growth in sales suggests consumers are opening their pocketbooks for pancakes, eggs, and hash browns. Earnings were also helped by lower costs for raw materials.

Denny’s results were also helped by the re-opening of the high-volume location inside the Las Vegas Casino Royale restaurant. After sales grew faster than expected in the first three months of the year, managers raised their sales forecast for the remainder of 2015.

The first script was generated by Automated Insights’ Wordsmith program, the second by NPR journalist Scott Horsley. Horsley took seven minutes to write his piece, the machine took two, but that’s hardly the point.

The machine’s text comes across with less warmth than Horsley’s, but that’s hardly the point either. As the source article notes, given sufficiautomated wordsmithent analysis of NPR’s reporting style, the machine would eventually be able to duplicate the house ‘tone of voice’.

A few weeks ago, Google unveiled artworks from its Deep Dream project.

Though of dubious artistic merit, the pieces shown demonstrated a breakthrough in the quest to replicate the human neural network – more specifically in a machine’s ability to recognise shapes and patterns.

Combine that with the capabilities used for ‘The Next Rembrandt’, add a little Denny’s special sauce, and it seems human intervention need only exist at the barest minimum. Type in a few keywords and the rest is done for you.Google Deep Dream Project

These advances in technology bring forward a worrying likelihood for creative professionals. When I consider how much back-end output requires relatively little ‘real’ inspiration; a brochure, an interest-rate MREC, a LinkedIn profile, a Product Disclosure Statement, a display listing, a retail radio script, a 15 second cut-down, etc.

I wonder whether it’ll just be easier for some CMO to rely on automated output derived from sophisticated templating and the vast trove of data supporting or defining their proposition?

I don’t think the supremacy of human-derived creativity is about to be supplanted. In order to create a fake Rembrandt we first need a real Rembrandt to reference.

I remain convinced that the front-end of a campaign or communication initiative will best succeed through brilliant human insight and creative application. I still think David Droga can and will produce incredibly effective marcomms better than any machine.

But at the back-end I think a big chunk of the creative professional’s output is under threat.

‘The Next Rembrandt’ demonstrates a machine’s capacity to synthesise learnings on creativity and reapply them, just as ‘An Elderly Man in a Cap’ demonstrates a human’s ability to do the same.

The majority of the briefs out there are based on a pre-existing brand proposition and tone of voice for delivery through specified channels.

The role of the creative on these briefs is to produce a variant communication within those defined parameters.

My professional pride is not enough to blind myself to the very real possibility that these sorts of back-end tasks could eventually be accomplished by a machine.

‘The Next Rembrandt’ is a marketing exercise by J. Walter Thompson Amsterdam for ING Bank launched earlier this week. Executive Creative Director Bas Korsten states:

“Can you teach a computer how to paint like Rembrandt? All I can say about the outcome is that I see a person. Not a computer image.”

Antony Giorgione is a freelance creative strategist


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