We tend to get romantic about creativity. Every time a new technology comes along with the aim of making creative work easier (think the printing press, the computer, photo-editing software), people are split between the enthusiastic minority and a large proportion of creatives who fear their craft is being commoditized, rather than enhanced.
This is an oddity for a species (humans) that is otherwise dedicated to progress and improved performance. Few of us would trade in an LCD screen for an old tube television, for instance, or replace a carbon-fibre racing bike for an older, heavier steel model.
Often, this comes down to what the media and industry-watchers have to say about new technologies. Unlike the clear benefits of a flat TV versus one that takes up more space, or a lighter and more aerodynamic bicycle, the benefits of technological improvement as they apply to creativity are harder to understand. And we tend to fear what we don’t understand.
This brings us to Artificial Intelligence (AI), the biggest tech innovation changing how marketers and advertisers work. Most people’s perception of AI is influenced by press coverage and sci-fi movies, which have sensationalized what AI can actually do. If we were to believe these sources, the robots will take all human judgment out of creative decision-making and we’ll be stuck in a homogenous dystopia where everyone comes up with the same ‘original’ idea, every time.
Today’s reality is more down to earth. AI in its current form is already having a major impact but it is only being applied to help us solve very specific problems in a narrow domain. Consider the limits of AI in self-driving cars – the best ones can navigate the wide lanes of sunny California, but give them a winding road during a mild snowstorm in the Swiss Alps and they would struggle to cope. Meanwhile, almost any driver could handle the challenge with their eyes closed (not that I’d recommend it).
In other words, AI allows us to identify patterns across billions of scenarios, learn from these, and use that information to do specific tasks better and faster, but it can’t replace a human’s discretion or adaptability when presented with a new scenario.
Similarly, AI is helping marketers and advertisers speed up long, time-intensive tasks (like pouring through image libraries or stock video footage) so they can dedicate more time to higher-level creative work. They are still working with the same pieces, but they also get to experiment with these pieces more efficiently, which means they have more liberty to experiment and come up with exciting ideas.
It’s also worth remembering that the creative process is split into two phases. Phase one is ideation, when a creative concept takes shape. Phase two involves the painstaking work of adapting that concept to different audiences and platforms. Most creatives would agree phase one is the fun part and phase two the long part, yet the execution phase is where most of their time is spent. By automating the routine elements of the execution process, creatives can gain more time to work on original concepts.
This year at Adobe Summit, we showcased an early-stage project called Launch It that uses AI to automatically tag web content, one of the most critical elements of an effective online strategy that also takes ages to complete. With Launch IT, brands can handle a task that once took hours or days in just minutes.
By the same token, technologies like Photoshop weren’t developed to kill creativity. They were developed to solve simple problems so creativity could blossom. It would be naïve to say these inventions didn’t affect the creative process, but looking at their impact in hindsight reveals they consistently removed barriers that stood in creativity’s way. AI is no different, and once we cut through the sci-fi definition of it we’ll start to appreciate how it helps real brands engage with real people on an emotional level.