TJ Ryan and his team at Droga5 Dublin have been working on something pretty special. Right now, it’s hard to walk through an hour in the creative world without stumbling upon an AI-related conversation. Usually, these focus on the same points and become echo-chambers of sorts, with the same information regurgitated and recycled. What happened here, however, was something different.
TJ told us about a chat he had recently which left an imprint. Whilst working on a project revolving around the issues of sustainability and plastic, they interviewed Charles Moore. Charles is a captain who whilst sailing from Hawaii to California discovered a trash vortex known as ‘The Great Pacific Garbage Patch’. Yikes. Here’s what he told TJ: “We need to make changes that affect reality, but to do so we need to visualise the future; because it could be proof of concept that show change is doable.” TJ told us that since hearing that, it’s a quote that sits on a wall in their room, acting as a signpost reminder of what it is they are trying to achieve. “It reminds us to visualise the future, and what we can do to empower people and prove that we can do good things in the world” he explains. There is little that sums up this ideation better than the Eureka Machine.
Inspiration - Birth of the Eureka Machine
For TJ, the journey of inspiration materialises in three prongs. The first is looking at emerging technologies; things like generative AI, and asking ‘how can we apply these tools to the world that we live in?’ The second is looking for the problems - ‘what problems is the world facing and how can we use the aforementioned technologies to aid them?’ The final part of the trifecta is establishing partners who are able to help drive the idea forward.
According to TJ, “The creative industry is well versed in creative partnerships; a wedlock of copywriter and art director, ‘til death do us part. It is important to recognise that AI is not merely a tool to be used for tasks but a respected and complimentary collaborator and a source of inspiration. Those who understand and embrace this partnership can unlock new forms of innovation.”
In January of this year the team was messing around with AI. They ended up finding a red button in their office. A prop left lying around. They swirled creative juices trying to conjure up an idea of what they could do with it. That’s when the brainwave of the Eureka Machine emerged. They decided to build an arcade machine with the red button front and centre, working as an activation tool. With ChatGPT built into the back end, their fingertips pattered across their keyboards to land on the United Nations website. There they found a list of the 24 most pressing issues facing humanity today, with examples including: cancer, world hunger and climate change.
The accumulation of AI and the issues identified, would create the basis for the machine. “We took the list, then a list of some of the world's emerging technologies and we wrote prompts that would ask for technical solutions for these problems.” The outcome raised eyebrows. TJ tells us, “Instantly it had ideas for how drones could solve world hunger or how cancer could be eliminated by 5G technology.” All of these results are of course to be taken with a pinch of salt, he explains, however, “It was a funny way of taking AI and world issues; two things drenched in uncertainty and fear and simplifying them in the form of a red button.” They then got to building a programme, 3D printing, created music and put in a speaker. They had the idea of putting the box into their office to see if anyone would be brave enough to press the weird, intriguing, unexplained button.
Take a Look
The humble beginnings of the machine which used ChatGPT3 as its basis now seems a faraway dream. Not only has it been updated to use GPT4, but has integrated the image-generative AI programme, Midjourney. Instead of simply providing an idea for the prompt, “how can AI cure cancer?” what you are left with is something more impressive. “You hit the button and you receive something that is formatted as if it is an award-winning Cannes idea entry.” It’s a beefed-out idea written on the backdrop of a Midjourney generated image.
Education, Play and Fear
Most of us can agree that one of the main points of contention regarding AI comes from a place of ignorance. It’s the lack of understanding that has us scrambling - the fear of the unknown will forever be one of the triggers for human waver. TJ is a firm believer in the power of education alleviating these qualms.
That was one of the reasons behind creating this machine. Sir Ken Robinson, one of the world's most revered education advisors, is a firm believer in using ‘play’ as a vehicle to educate. Put simply, it’s when we don’t know we’re learning, that we end up learning the most.
“Chat GPT doesn’t look like a friendly place. It’s been created by technical minds and so it has ended up looking technical. Here we have taken something that might be less approachable and hard to understand and made it so simple that you can learn about it by just hitting a button.” He explains that whilst a lot of people might not head to the website to figure out how it worked, they might approach a thing that resembles something they played with when they were a kid. “There’s something quite special and fun about creating this retro-looking thing that’s telling this futuristic story. There’s a little bit of cheek to it and I think that’s the point,” he says.
When we asked him about how this simplicity looked in action he began smiling immediately. You saw his eyes flash back to a memory that he just had to share. There was a point where he had the physical game in his family home, and one day, he walked in to find his two kids, aged one and four, playing with it. “They were hitting the button and laughing along. Often, we tell designers to make something so simple a five year old can get it. And I just thought, hey, we made something so simple that even a one year old knows they can press a button and something cool happens.”
A Head Start
The machine stands as an example for how the future might look when we think about the collaboration between humans and computers. TJ explains that as human beings we are inherently interested in stories: it’s in our nature. And it’s true. Whether it be the Chauvet Cave in France whose paintings represent the earliest form of storytelling dating back 36,000 years, the Irish mythology of the 11th century, or gathering around a campfire today - it’s part of who we are as a species. We process beginnings and ends and storylines. For TJ, it’s important that we don’t make the technology the story. We need to ask ‘how can we use it to tell better stories? To get closer to the emotional?’
He adds, “AI is amazing at accelerating our workflow. This is what technology has always done, be it the invention of the printing press, the camera, or Photoshop. The likes of ChatGPT and Midjourney can perform creative tasks at amazing speed with great intelligence, but it has its limitations.” For TJ, the heart of the creative process lies in the irreplaceable human qualities like critical thinking, emotional intelligence, imagination, and simply - reading the room. He continues, “Technology can play a supportive role in refining the creative process and amplifying its output. But it’s only humans that can get the hairs on the back of our neck to stand up.”
The brilliance of the Eureka Machine is not that it is churning out perfect ideas. It probably isn’t going to solve world hunger, climate change, or cure cancer. The brilliance comes from igniting conversations that might lead to the evolution of bigger ideas, and then, solutions. And to do so in a way that feels not only safe, but playful.
Every earth-shaking resolution begins as a thought, and maybe this is a head start.
The Eureka Machine and other demos from Accenture Song can be seen at the 70th Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity, Monday June 19th to Friday June 23rd, 2023.