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Opinion and Insight
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From McCann’s AI-CD β to Microsoft’s Tay: What Does AI Mean for the Future of Creative Careers?

LBB Editorial, 6 months ago

Laura Swinton explores the good, the bad and the ugly consequences of artificial intelligence

From McCann’s AI-CD β to Microsoft’s Tay: What Does AI Mean for the Future of Creative Careers?

Warnings that robots will make us puny humans redundant get louder every year. In February, computer scientist Moshe Vardi warned that half of the world’s workers could find themselves redundant by 2050... And it looks like not even rock star creative directors are immune from the rise of the machines. This week McCann Japan announced it has appointed an AI creative director. It hasn’t escaped us that the official welcoming ceremony for AI-CD β will be on April 1st, but given some of the weirder predictions we’ve seen floating around the industry recently, we’re not entirely convinced it’s a joke.

In fact, McCann Japan isn’t the first agency to engineer its own redundancy by building an AI creative. Back in 2009, BETC Paris developed CAI (creative artificial intelligence). The software was devised as a tongue-in-cheek experiment to prove that machines would never be able to replace human creativity – but the agency was alarmed to find that CAI was quite adept at churning out the “mediocre ad campaigns that take hours and hours of meetings to produce." Androids, they found, may not dream of Cannes Lions Grands Prix, but they can knock together crap tampon ads in their sleep.

A couple of weeks ago at Adfest, AKQA’s Eric Cruz opened our eyes to AI-backed film editing software, which apparently really is a thing. Everything from colour grading to the traditional creative partnership could be under threat from the acceleration of machine learning and AI technology, reckons Eric.

Thank goodness, then, for Microsoft’s almighty fuck up last week. Their AI Twitterbot Tay quickly morphed from a perky teen girl persona to a Holocaust-denying racist, sexist nymphomaniac after just hours in contact with the trolls of the Internet. Of all the lessons to be learned (of which there are many, including ‘don’t trust the Internet not to willfully sabotage your PR stunt’ and ‘there’s a reason Google chose a Go tournament and not Twitter to showcase their AI tech’), the most reassuring take home is ‘artificial intelligence ain’t quite there yet and your job is probably safe-ish… for now’.

(On the other hand, it was hardly a glorious day for human intelligence either. Real meat-and-gristle people green lit Tay in the first place. Real meat-and-gristle forgot that intelligence isn’t just about absorbing knowledge, it’s about understanding what to do with that information and – crucially for Tay – what to ignore.)

For the time being, the Tay incident is a stick in the spokes of the 2016 AI hype cycle. But one fairly unsophisticated programme and a PR whoopsie aren’t going to stop investment in a lucrative field. I only hope that by the time machines/the cloud/my fridge master deep learning and reasoning, we’ve figured out a social and political system that is able to cope with half the human population bumming around, unemployed. 

Until recently, the expert view on robots, AI and employability was that those in ‘highly creative’ roles were at the lowest risk of machine-driven redundancy. Try telling that to the advertising industry.

The industry – or those holding the purse strings – is already devaluing creativity, shrinking creative departments and squeezing junior-level salaries in favour of investment in data and tech. How ironic, then, that creative careers (in some form or other) could be the only roles that survive – if we don’t sabotage the notion of creativity in order to hitch a ride on the latest bandwagon.