News & Views

Opinion / AI: The New Creative Mind

by Contagious Contributor
Anthony Baker, tech director, R/GA London, asks if Artificial Intelligence will become the new creative mind for agencies and brands?

The short answer to the title question is probably not, at least for the time being. There’s a unique element of creativity within all of us that machines are unlikely to replicate. However, assistive and smart technologies are catching up and we’ll soon be facing a whole new world of possibilities. Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) have huge potential to drive a new generation of creative brand experiences. They’re at the forefront of a powerful shift that will bring brands closer to consumer expectations, passions and emotions.

AI and ML can be applied in many ways. The use of machine learning to power business decisions and product recommendations is becoming widespread. We experience it when we buy on Amazon, watch TV on Netflix, hail an Uber or tag friends on Facebook. There are more creative experiments out there like The Next Rembrandt app, “machine music composition” and “TV show script generation” that use machine learning to create new art (with mixed results). While AI is poised to transform our industries and technologies, like electricity did in the mid-twentieth century, AI has the potential to change art, creativity and the way brands and agencies create the next generation of experiences.

It’s easy to hear all the buzz and think of AI and ML as new or recent developments but they have a long history. AI has been actively researched since the dawn of computing but it’s become much more powerful, flexible and accessible in the last few years. This is down to heavy investment from companies like IBM, Intel, Google, Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft, meaning faster, cheaper hardware with better algorithms.
The key to a successful machine-assisted experience is data. Converting big data into useful data is a difficult challenge. This is where agencies and brands have a huge opportunity. Netflix has been successful in making sense of consumer data, to the point that it now knows which shows and casts will become big hits, before they’ve even been filmed.

One big issue is that most of the data being captured isn’t smart. Very often, it doesn’t reflect consumer interests and takes a lot of analysis (and sometimes plain guesswork) to come up with insights that drive strategy and creativity. Traditional web and mobile analytics don’t work as expected, anymore, in a hyperconnected world. Demographics, page views, page clicks and hashtags are falling short in their exposure of true consumer learnings. Lifestyle, sentiment and engagement are the key elements to go after. Spotify has done this in innovative ways, marrying user habits like playlist creation with crowd-sourced behaviours to create killer playlist suggestions.

Brands want to understand how people feel about their services, products and content. So far, though, it seems we only have a broken and partial view of consumers – not the full picture we aspire to. This is exactly where a new wave of interfaces will move the industry forwards, away from a straight broadcast out with frivolous two-way interactions towards a more natural dialogue between brands and people.
With the rise of new interfaces and interactions like 1:1 messaging, voice-enabled services and natural language processing, we have a real chance to reach a deeper understanding of consumers. Combine this with the constant growth of connected devices, and the opportunity to capture smart data from consumer interactions becomes huge.

Data is the fuel of AI. According to Internet Live Stats, there are roughly 3.5 billion people with access to the internet, generating exponential amounts of data. According to IDC, we’ll be creating 44 zettabytes of data worldwide by 2020. This data will become increasingly smarter thanks to two main factors. Firstly, more connected devices means we’ll need a more holistic view of consumer lifestyles. Secondly, the rise of messaging and conversational platforms like WeChat, Line, Slack and Facebook will provide a stream of dialogue-based data. It all results in a new wave of smart data, empowering our industry to understand people on a whole new level.

AI lets us understand complex interactions like voice, text dialogues, pictures and videos in a more personalised way. Now we can classify interactions from consumers and smart solutions can understand what a person is saying. When we recognise the intention and the sentiment of a human interaction, we can react to it accordingly. Is that person happy or frustrated about the service? Was the content delightful or bland? This is the kind of qualitative understanding that we just can’t get through page views or clicks. Jay Zasa wrote a great piece, recently, about the challenge of creating meaningful bots and conversational services.

Most importantly, machines can learn much quicker than humans. They constantly develop and improve over time, testing response, intent and sentiment to enhance the service on offer. They can solve the scalability problem, which has blocked truly personalised services for so long. Why would you go to a website and waste time searching for something if you could have a smart, machine-assisted personal service giving you what you need at the right time and place, on the right device or channel? After all, the ultimate goal is to create the simplest, most meaningful experience for the consumer.

Machines are not about to take over the world and lead the creative sphere; but if we want to create better, simpler, more personal experiences, it’s clear that AI technology must play a chief role in the research and design of brand experiences. AI could become the ultimate creative tool for brands and agencies, helping them build richer experiences with lasting value.

The landscape is moving towards a smarter, hyperconnected, ongoing dialogue between people and brands. Things are evolving fast and our industry can’t afford to hesitate. We need to use cognitive technology in new ways to boldly break the mould, creating experiences that aren’t one-off executions. Instead, they’ll be constantly improving and growing the brand-consumer relationship. Isn’t that what we’ve all been waiting for?