AI won’t kill creativity. Here’s why

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.