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Can AI Replace Creativity?

I’ve been speaking at multiple sessions and events during the last several months, and there is one question that I am asked at each presentation, with no exceptions. 

As the brightest and sharpest minds of the advertising industry come together in Cannes for the Cannes Lions 2022 this week, I thought it is the right time to put the question (and my answer) into a blog post.

The question comes in different forms. 

Will all creative content be done by AI? 

Will writers no longer have jobs because of AI? 

Will the work done by designers be done by robots?

Will we no longer have a new Shakespeare, Vivaldi or Picasso? 

Will AI take all creative jobs?

My opinion is based on experience working with creatives over the years as well as reading millions of words generated by AI and seeing the results of thousands of published pages that have AI-powered content. I have been very lucky to work with the best creative talents and also to introduce technologies that help advance marketing communications and deliver efficiencies for brands. My work has always been about connecting brands and consumers, and I love every single minute of my professional experience, whether at an ad agency, a digital marketing shop, a travel startup, or now at a company that leverages AI to produce relevant content for brands to keep up with the digital age. And I am as curious about finding ways to improve brand discovery and engagement as when I joined JWT as an Account Executive for Ferrero some 20 years ago. 

It will be a huge understatement to say that marketing communications have evolved since that time. Is AI just the next hype? Why are the conversations about AI so different from all the earlier advances in advertising, be it the first steps to transition to digital marketing, RTB, programmatic, or the introduction of all things data? Is it mostly because AI is now “entering” the territory that has historically been exclusively human – creativity?

Let’s start by looking at what is AI, and what it can and can’t do. My definition is far from scientific, but at its core, we are dealing with a huge data set that can be trained and tweaked for a particular subject or task. And once it has been and it “knows” all that information, it can be used to create a lot of content in a very short period of time. In the style and tone of your choice

AI is still in its infancy, but it will continue to progress very fast. Its quality is improving, and it is simply incomparable to the primitive chatbot customer support conversations many of us have experienced. In 2022, natural language processing has advanced to a level when in most cases it is impossible to differentiate if a text was written by a human or by a robot.

Here is an AI-generated response to a prompt to write a paragraph about what AI is capable of in content creation:

“There is no doubt that artificial intelligence (AI) is rapidly evolving and growing more sophisticated every day. With advancements in machine learning, AI is now capable of creating content that is not only realistic and believable, but also engaging and compelling. For businesses, this means that AI can be used to generate marketing materials, social media posts, and even website content. In fact, AI is already being used by some of the largest companies in the world to create and distribute content at scale. What’s even more amazing is that AI is not only capable of creating content, but it can also learn and adapt over time to become even more effective. As AI continues to evolve, the possibilities for what it can do in content creation are endless.”

My point of view is the best use of AI in content creation is to augment and complement human creativity. There can’t be a competition between human creativity and AI creativity. It is very different. But when the two are combined, the results can be outstanding.

I am yet to meet a person who’d get super excited about writing 100 descriptions of, say, a toothpaste for an e-commerce website (and by the way, if you create just one description and send it to 100 websites, you are hurting your brand and those 100 websites.)  But why not take advantage of the knowledge in a data set, and get AI to generate a content plan for 1 month of Facebook posts in minutes, and only review and edit rather than spend hours or even days coming up with engaging content to promote a toothpaste. Or update content for SEO purposes, or create dozens of daily newsletters for multiple audience segments. AI can do the heavy lifting, and creative teams can focus on what they do best and what they love – ideation and strategy.

Another advance in natural language processing has to do with images. It is not yet available for commercial use, but DALL-E 2 is mind-blowing. It creates images from a natural text description. For example:

“A black pencil sketch of a boy and a girl brushing teeth in front of a mirror”

Toothbrushing sketch

I can picture a creative team brainstorming ideas for a new TVC and instead of spending time doing sketches, in under a minute they have an image that is then shared with a production team. And yes, the time spent to create a storyboard, once you have all the descriptions, will equal the Number of frames x 1 minute. Not days or weeks of several people. In any style and color. Continuing with the topic of toothbrushing. “A watercolor-style painting of a boy and a girl brushing teeth in front of a mirror”:

Toothbrushing watercolor

The creative team will still need to come up with the original idea but can use AI to greatly optimize the path from idea to execution. From weeks to minutes. Think about all the great things that can be done with such efficiency! As I am typing these, I can also picture happy smiling managers responsible for P&L, and procurement specialists.

I got access to DALL-E 2 just a few days ago, and I can’t help sharing some fun images I got when playing with it. 

"A cat submarine chimera, digital art"

DALL·E 2022-06-16 00.25.18 - a cat submarine chimera, digital art

“A sunlit indoor lounge area with a pool with clear water and another pool with translucent pastel pink water, next to a big window, digital art”

 

sunlit

“A modern-art style painting of Bryant Park”

 

DALL·E 2022-06-17 23.13.31 - a modern-art style painting of Bryant Park

Similar to all the progress such as the wheel and electricity, AI has its own implications and consequences. It brings convenience as well as some disadvantages. Because we are talking about creativity, it is so difficult to compare AI-related progress with other developments in history. But it is progress. 

Will there be an award for AI creativity in Cannes? Maybe. But it’d be more accurate to have an award for the best-trained data set and its use.

AI can assist and augment human creativity, but I don’t think it will ever replace it.

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