Can AI produce original content?

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A story caught my eye this morning:

‘In Japan, an artificial intelligence has been appointed creative director.’

Yes, you read correctly.

This is the news that McCann Japan has created a robot, AI-CD β, that can analyse creative campaigns and provide input and insight on projects. In the words of McCann Japan CEO Yasuyuki Katagi, “Artificial intelligence is already being used to create a wide variety of entertainment, including music, movies, and TV drama, so we’re very enthusiastic about the potential of AI-CD β for the future of ad creation. The whole company is 100 percent on board to support the development of our AI employee.”

Now, before we go any further, I’ll make it very clear that the story in question should probably be taken with a pinch of salt. The suggestion made, most probably for PR purposes, is that this robot could legitimately replicate the role of a human creative director in the production of creative. I will admit that I did consider for a second whether I would prefer to work with my fellow compadres at Amaze or their hypothetical robot counterparts, but if we delve deeper into the background behind the creation of AI-CD β, it becomes clear that its function is less ad creation, and more ad analysis. AI-CD β examines historical ad campaigns to look for trends and patterns in the ads created for certain brands or products, with the end goal of finding situations or themes that haven’t been broached before. Interesting certainly, but I think we can probably agree that our jobs are probably safe for the time being.

However, with the recent developments made in the field of AI and machine learning, it does raise anintriguing question: Can we use AI produce content that is indistinguishable from that created by a real person?

There are already a few high-profile examples of AI being used to create content from scratch. IBM’s cognitive computer Watson has been used as part of an experiment to discover and create new recipes through the use of ‘flavour compound algorithms’. The idea being that if you have enough data on the flavours, ingredients and combinations that come together to form cuisines, then you can begin to find new combinations and similar ingredients that could be substituted to generate completely unique recipes. With feedback from users and through the use of machine-learning algorithms, the system learns what works and what doesn’t, and this is fed back into the service.

Similarly, Google’s Deep Dream project fed artificial neural networks millions of images as training to recognise the contents of new images, with the purpose of improving image classification. But as the project progressed it also became clear that the opposite of this could also be explored – give the AI a starting point, an image of static noise for example, and then ask it to enhance that image based on what it ‘sees’. The resulting images are bizarre, dali-esque montages of images that the AI has recognised from its training and applied based on patterns it has recognised in the base image.

Again, no-one is arguing that this form of ‘art’ is truly or uniquely creative in the purest sense of the word. But there are parallels in the way in which the creative process is influenced by other work. In the process of creating a page design, a designer will take fixed rules about how something is displayed, by referring to the brand guidelines, and enhance it based on influences from a host of different stimuli and their own experiences. A musician may take an instrument associated with a particular genre – a slide guitar for country or a Roland 303 for acid house – and combine it with elements from other genres to create something new. In some senses, everything is borrowed.

It all comes down to context.

This is a quality that all good content possesses. And this is nothing new, though plenty of marketing publications and Linkedin articles would have you believe otherwise. Any ‘good’ piece of content, whether it is a film, book, song, vine, or blog article, is good because it combines a production aesthetic with an appreciation of the context in which it exists. Too often when we consider the production of content for brands, do we consider the context in terms of where the content lives (the channel) and who sees it (the audience). Or rather, the characteristics of context that are easier to define and quantify.

There is a subtler part of the context equation. Brands and publications that get context right have an appreciation of the cultural or social or historical significance of a piece of content, whatever it may be, at a specific point in time. In combination with the right audience and the right channel, this is a powerful thing. It gives content meaning. It allows content to tug on the strange behavioural phenomena that we find difficult to explain or put into words – nostalgia, to give one example.

It’s the difference between a brand manager and a journalist (hint: they can be one and the same thing). It’s the difference between a human and an AI.

A recent campaign by Nike gets this spot on. In collaboration with Boiler Room – a live music streaming site who in recent years has become a tastemaker across the globe – Nike charts the history of Air Max trainers and the influence underground music has had on fashion in the UK. There are people and articles that can better elucidate the relationship that UK garage and grime have with youth culture and fashion, in particular Nike trainers and sportswear, but it can safely be said that the success of each other has been intertwined. What started in dingy basement clubs and pirate radio stations now rules streaming charts and festival headline slots. And the Nike Air Max has no doubt been a part of that transition.

The real brainwave though? Including the cast of BBC Three’s Kurrupt FM, a recent mockumentary poking fun at pirate radio stations in London, to narrate the piece. Underneath what can sometimes be perceived as a tough exterior, there’s always been a tongue-in-cheek, sense of silliness to the UK Garage and Grime scenes and this is captured by the Kurrupt FM inclusion.

It pains me to reference Nike examples in articles such as these, as they obviously have no shortage of funds available to them for sponsorships, marketing and consequently content production. And what we’re talking about here really doesn’t come down to the budget available. More often than not it’s a question of talent. Who you have in place that can appreciate culturally what the brand or campaign means, and can communicate it in a way that feels genuine and unpretentious


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