Revolutionary Measures

Will Artificial Intelligence kill creativity?

Listening to the news recently, one of Microsoft’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) researchers was extolling the virtues of the technology, and how it could help humans. Many of the examples mentioned – such as using machine learning to analyse millions of medical cases to alert doctors to symptoms they might have missed and describing the world around them to the blind, all have a clear benefit to society, as does the ability to understand conversations and use the knowledge to improve customer experience.

Artificial Intelligence Programming Robot Ai Ki

However, the interview then turned to how AI is being incorporated into Microsoft Office, where it will be used to help ‘improve’ the documents that we write, and the presentations that we create. And that’s where I began to get worried. Everyone has a personal style when it comes to writing, and while some mistakes are obvious (such as spelling and punctuation), ‘correcting’ what we write so that it fits with what is seen as good by an algorithm worries me a lot. I do a lot of writing for clients and each one has its own, individual style, dependent on who it is aimed at, the message I’m trying to get across and the medium being used. How can a machine understand this? I’ve already switched off the grammar checker on Word as it always seems to recommend using shorter words and shorter sentences, even if they don’t give the impact I’m looking for.

It also made me think of the impact on overall creativity. Through the ages writers have developed their own unique styles, often going against the current orthodoxy to stand out from the crowd. Imagine e.e. cummings poems with all the words capitalised, or Marcel Proust sentences shortened so that they don’t stretch over multiple pages. Or the fact that computers don’t seem to yet understand puns and double entendres, removing the humour from documents.

In short, the risk is that we end up with bland, homogeneous copy produced by everyone. It may be understandable by a 10 year old, and meet all SEO requirements but it doesn’t have real impact, and the good doesn’t stand out from the average. To my mind that doesn’t help anyone – amidst all the worries about AI and robots taking over the world, I think we need to start with its effect on creativity. Perhaps it is time to go back to pen and paper?

Photo via Max Pixel http://maxpixel.freegreatpicture.com/Artificial-Intelligence-Programming-Robot-Ai-Ki-2167835

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July 19, 2017 Posted by | Creative, Marketing | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The end of the creative professions?

The industrial revolution mechanised previously craft-based activities, and since then machines have become more and more involved in creating the world around us. But until a few years ago, this mechanisation didn’t affect those of us in the creative industries – after all, our imagination and skills couldn’t be replicated by a machine.

Best Wedding Photography Picture about Profess...

The internet has changed all of that. In some cases it has allowed computers to take on tasks that were previously only done by humans, by applying artificial intelligence and machine learning and breaking them into discrete tasks. You can now get computer-written journalism, which use algorithms to bring together data and organise it into a rudimentary article. In the US, stories about minor earthquake reports are now routinely created and published, based on information supplied by the US Geological Survey. It isn’t much of a stretch to see short sports reports written based on player data and profiles, avoiding the need to send a reporter out to lower league matches.

However the biggest threat or opportunity to the creative industries is that the internet and digital technology has broken down the barriers around previously specialist occupations. Take photography. In the past only professional photographers could afford the equipment needed to create (and manually develop) arresting images. Now, similar levels of performance are available in a smartphone, and PhotoShop can do the rest. News stories frequently use amateur shots from bystanders who happened to be in the right place at the right time, adding extra depth to articles. Design and PR are both equally affected. Anyone can set up as a web designer or copywriter, without necessarily needing to undergo lengthy training.

In many ways this is a good thing – the internet has democratised creative industries that were previously off limits to most of us and enables more people to share their thoughts, feelings and ideas. It uncovers real talents who never previously would have been spotted, whether that is musicians on YouTube or specialist bloggers with a passion for their subject. But what it also does is amateurise previously professional occupations. How can a portrait photographer compete on cost with a bloke and an iPhone? Again, a copywriter on eLance charges much less than a professional. And the overall effect is that there is more stuff out there (words, pictures, videos of cute cats), but quality is far more hit or miss.

Before people start complaining, as someone that makes a living through PR and copywriting I obviously do have a vested interest here. But that doesn’t mean I don’t welcome more competition and the chance for more people to be creative. Far from it. However businesses need to understand that you get what you pay for – in the same way that fixing your car yourself is inherently riskier than going to a garage (unless you are a mechanic), working with amateurs opens you up to potential issues. Do they have insurance if something goes wrong, do they understand copyright, are they using legal images on your new website? There are 101 questions that you need to be sure of, before handing over your money. And it can be pretty obvious when a website has been put together by the managing director’s teenage son or daughter. Businesses therefore need to strike a balance between democratisation and working with amateurs if they are to stand out in an increasingly crowded global market.

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April 16, 2014 Posted by | Creative, Marketing, PR | , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Lego – the marketing

English: A 2x4 red plastic brick like a Lego b...

Everyone loves Lego – except of course when you tread on a brick with your bare feet or cannot see the living room floor for brightly coloured ‘creations’. So it is a bit of a surprise that we’re only just seeing the first full-length Lego movie (imaginatively titled The Lego Movie) hitting UK cinemas now. We’ve already had short Lego films, pastiches of other films (my personal favourite is the Camelot song from Monty Python’s Quest for the Holy Grail) and innumerable video games.

As a parent of Lego-age children I’m sure I’ll be visiting the cinema to see it this half term, but what has really impressed me is the marketing around the film. As well as the traditional online, cinema and print ads, Warner Brothers have looked further afield. For example, the whole of one ad break in Dancing on Ice was made up of traditional adverts, re-shot entirely using Lego characters and bricks. From BT to Travelodge, it didn’t really matter how good the original ads were – the Lego ones were a whole lot better.

It didn’t end there – the Culture Show ran a special programme on the impact of Lego on architecture and even David Beckham got in on the act, claiming that building with the stuff calms him down and that he’d just finished a 1,000 brick model of Tower Bridge. VIP tickets for David and his kids must be in the post. At one point I even expected a Lego character to turn up as Top Gear’s Star in a Reasonably Priced Car (or the Stig to remove his helmet to reveal a yellow, brick-like face.)

And this has been backed up by a very active social media strategy, dating back a number of months. This sends you to a website where you can create your own mini figure which you can turn into a poster, icon or wallpaper.

Of course, Lego the Movie (and indeed the overall brand) has a big advantage over a lot of its competitors. It is intrinsically linked to pretty much everyone’s childhoods, and the urge to create is something that most of us don’t grow out of. However the company has used its strengths and extended itself very naturally to the film and online spaces (witness its CUUSOO site where the community votes on potential new models). Consequently people have flocked to the movie and a sequel is already in the works.

We can’t all have the brand power of Lego, but brand marketers and startups alike can learn a lot from how the company operates. It is open, friendly and inclusive, great at customer service and most importantly, doesn’t rest on its laurels. There is always new stuff coming out – from electronics-based Mindstorms to more traditional models. Children and adults love the Lego experience and have an emotional connection with the brand that grows over time. You don’t really grow out of it. Look at your own company – how can you build your own little bit of Lego into the DNA? Minus the painful standing on a brick, obviously.

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February 12, 2014 Posted by | Creative, Marketing, Social Media | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Are we too busy to be creative?

Short Meeting

Everyone is packing more into their working lives – and work is increasingly invading our leisure time. Apparently 69% of us cannot go to bed without checking email, and in the US, employees spend an extra 8.5 hours working every week compared to 1979.

And we’re continually being told to do more. But this normally translates into wasting our energies on ultimately unproductive activities such as sending and answering emails or sitting in endless meetings. McKinsey believe the average highly skilled office worker spends over a quarter of every day answering emails. The Dutch talk about vergaderziekte, which translates as ‘meeting sickness’. On one hand we make snap decisions to get emails out of our inbox and on the other fall asleep in day long meetings that seem to have no purpose.

It wouldn’t matter so much if this busyness translated into better business. But Robert Gordon of Northwestern University argued last year that the any additional productivity caused by the internet is much smaller than previous innovations such as indoor plumbing or electrification. Do you feel more productive?

For those of us in the creative industries the distractions and interruptions caused by modern business are particularly dangerous. And it is no accident that lots of startup ideas come from academia, where there is more time for uninterrupted research.

Creativity doesn’t come in the midst of an email or a meeting, but when you have time to think, unfettered by the ping of an incoming message hitting your inbox. Otherwise ideas come out half formed without reflection or perspective. Research at the University of California removed email from 13 people for five days and saw concentration levels rise and stress drop.

To win back our creativity and give time to thinking we need to regain control over our working lives. I’m no management guru, but here are five things that might help:

  1. Set aside thinking time. Leave your office, switch off your phone and just take an hour a week to focus, uninterrupted, on the big picture.
  2. Go for a run – get up from your desk and do some exercise. The added bonus is that if your company doesn’t have showers you won’t be invited to afternoon meetings.
  3. Use a pen and paper. Get your thoughts down longhand before opening up Word.
  4. Be ruthless. Turn down meetings (politely if possible) so that you have blocks of time to concentrate on what is important.
  5. Do less. Follow Ronald Reagan’s dictum “It’s true hard work never killed anybody, but why take the chance?” Do you need to check your email – and do you actually need to send that email to 20 people, with another 10 cc’d.

Whatever industry you are in, creative or not, take a step back and refocus if you want to be happier, more productive and more creative. Easier said than done perhaps, but the potential benefits are vast.

August 21, 2013 Posted by | Creative, Startup | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Creative vs Business?

Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci, Galleria d...

Image via Wikipedia

For too many people a ‘creative business’ is a contradiction in terms – with lots of creative types unable (or even unwilling) to balance being artistic and actually making some money. Whether a designer, illustrator, artist or PR person there are many ways that the artistic temperament can get in the way of running a successful, money-making enterprise.

At this week’s CamCreative, James Cotton of onespacemedia entertainingly outlined some of the pitfalls that creative people plunge into when running a business. You can download the whole presentation here.

I’d split the eight areas he talks about into two big themes – not being confident in your own abilities and not thinking as a business. The first point is probably part and parcel of being creative, but if you spend your time comparing your £500 website design to the works of Leonardo da Vinci you’re not going to be satisfied. More and more time gets spent chasing perfection, destroying any chance of making money on a job.

Saying that creatives need to think in business terms isn’t about wearing a suit or spending your days ploughing through spreadsheets. Issues like not getting a decent brief, doing speculative work, saying yes when you should say no and poor administration aren’t making you into a slave of the machine – they are making sure you deliver creatively, avoid disputes and essentially get paid.

There’s something in James’ presentation for everyone in the industry. Most of all it should be a wake-up call for all creative businesses – time to realise you need to marry both sets of skills together if you are going to both wow your clients with brilliant work and pay the rent.

 

 

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July 1, 2011 Posted by | Cambridge, Creative, PR | , , , , , | 1 Comment