Assembly lines manned by soulless mechanical arms. Cars and trucks driven by sensors and CPUs. ‘Self-serve’ checkouts where avocados are routinely scanned as onions.
Mankind certainly has a strange obsession with hastening its own obsolescence.
And now in our own industry, we are beginning to see the effects of technology on creativity.
Where we once relied on raw human instinct and emotion to validate our decisions, more and more we are leaning on data and analytics. And while some might argue that technology removes human error from the equation, I fear it’s taking a lot more than that with it.
In Japan, wabi-sabi is the ‘the art of imperfection’. The thought is that something that appears ‘perfect’ doesn’t feel genuine. In fact, it makes us uncomfortable. For something to be truly authentic it must carry some imperfections, however slight they may be. And I think there is some truth to that. How are imperfect people going to truly relate to perfection?
Our technological quest to reduce the risk associated with the generation of ideas has created an environment that encourages chasing safety over trusting uncertainty. How many gut feelings have had ‘the numbers don’t add up’ engraved on their tombstone?
And now, we’re actually starting to see the first instances of the creative process being handed over to artificial intelligence.
At Cannes this year, I saw an algorithm paint the first Rembrandt in 350 years and watched a film purportedly directed by artificial intelligence. Both picked up some big awards. And yeah, sure, both signal amazing developments in technological progression and the utilisation of data, but once you strip away the ‘this was made by a robot’ factor, they didn’t make me feel anything.
And that is because artificial intelligence doesn’t feel anything. It might see an ‘idea’, but it doesn’t feel it.
Because robots don’t get butterflies in the stomach.
They don’t stare at a blank page with that old familiar mixture of fear and excitement.
They don’t push late into the night fuelled by nothing other than belief and a hunch.
They don’t turn a ship five degrees to the left at the last minute and discover Atlantis.
Data looks at what was and what has happened in the past. But it doesn’t ask ‘what if?’
This is not a piece about bashing data and technology, far from it.
It’s simply a reminder that, when it comes to ideas and creativity, no matter how far technology takes us, there is no substitute for, well, being human.
An algorithm can categorise a bunch of stuff that’s already been done and average out a result, like ‘The Next Rembrandt’ did, but is that really what we’re hunting? Safety in the average?
Because, as legendary London ad man Dave Trott said, while an algorithm can relay scientific facts and information about spinach, “an algorithm can’t come up with Popeye”.
So let’s remember to always trust in uncertainty from time to time.
It’s more fun that way.