15 January 2021

Artificial Intelligence vs. Genuine Creativity

Will Artificial Intelligence replace Creativity?

No, but it might help it, in a roundabout way.

What is AI? What can it do?

Nearly all AI work today is based on successes in machine learning. Think of machine learning as having enough data and enough processing power to think through analyses that would take humans too long to do. Imagine a mountainous, time-consuming task that needed to be done, however slowly.

Here’s one example. For half a century, scientists have been mapping the three-dimensional shapes of proteins that are responsible for diseases like cancer and Covid-19. They refer to this mapping as “unfolding,” and doing it for just one protein takes a long time and a lot of money. Up to now they’ve “unfolded” only a fraction of the 200 million known proteins. The work done so far was recently fed to an AI program called “AlphaFold” which used it to do decades of work all at once. The results have been published online for review by the scientific community.

Did AI cure any diseases? No, but it advanced the work of scientists trying to do so.

Can AI advance the work of creativity?

How to approach AI

Some AI experts will tell you to approach AI with three questions in mind:

1) Is the task genuinely data driven?
2) Do you have the data needed?
3) Do you need the scale that automation provides?

On that last question: If you have a decision that needs to be made more than once per minute, then yes, you need the scale; if you have a decision that needs to be made only once per year, then probably not.

Does creativity answer “yes” to all three questions? What kind of creativity are we talking about? A painting, a sculpture, a novel? An advertisement? Let’s focus on advertising for the moment.

Advertising, Big Data and AI

We can’t say the task of creating ads is “genuinely data driven.” Sure, advertising ideas for a particular client or project may entail data or feature a data point, but even that isn’t a matter of computation. Nor is the task so routine that we create ads at a rate of more than one-per-minute. (OK, it feels that way sometimes.) Variations on an ad, however, might drive that kind of scale. Personalization of ads, for example, might be accomplished with AI that considers not only the recipient’s name but their past purchase history and other data. That’s already happening in most online marketplaces, and don’t forget that direct mail is personalized. But these are all variations on an ad created by humans.
It's a protein,
not a creative brief

There have been attempts to create at least one kind of advertising with AI: movie trailers. The first experiment was back in 2016: someone wrote a program, based on consumer reactions to movie trailers, that could lift scenes from a movie and sequence them in 30 seconds that would effectively convince people to see the movie. Judge the results for yourself and see here a more recent experiment from 2018. More recently, Netflix invested in technology to automate trailers for their content, while adding personalization for its subscribers, which makes sense for an individualized setting like your Netflix account.

Setting aside the irony that movie trailers are already quite formulaic, we see that AI made an ad. But does anyone really think that the studio marketing head won’t ask the machine for revisions? What about the movie itself? Could AI create a full-length, cinematic feature?
This may depend on one’s world view.

Keep AI in perspective

AI can certainly enable a human being to see new possibilities. For example, large amounts of data may help us predict future changes in consumer behavior. Knowing these possibilities may lead to a new insight on how to position a product or service. There’s great value in AI when it comes to aiding our thinking process. It can give us insight that inspires creativity. But that creativity is human, not artificial.

At an AI conference, a very intelligent professor of computer science said, “There’s no aspect of human cognition that can’t be modeled on a machine.” At the next break, I sought him out to learn more. He explained his world view that humanity – the human mind – is essentially physical, part of the physical world, and therefore can be modeled. Yes, he explained, machines will gain the ability to make cinematic features when AI develops enough to mimic every function of the brain. I asked, does it follow that humans are essentially machines? Incredibly, he said, “Yes, that’s a fair statement of how I see it.”

I see it differently. Creativity takes judgment, and human judgment comes from each person’s uniqueness, and their interaction with other people’s uniquenesses, to create something with passion and imagination. Perhaps, like me, you believe that we are more than machines. We have a spirit, a soul if you will, that animates us and gives us the ability to create sculptures, novels, choreography, and advertising. No machine can ever replicate that.

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