In this opinion piece, The Works’ Tomas Haffenden (pictured below) looks at the job security of creatives amidst the rise of technology and AI.
It is now common knowledge that the robots are gunning for our jobs. As an industry proudly built on language, art and, most importantly, creativity, most of us feel like we are safe.
The trouble is, no-one told the robots. Is what we do uniquely human, or is it only a matter of time before advertising is just another sector on the robot’s CV?
Two agency seats that probably best exemplify the creativity we think is keeping us safe are that of copywriter and designer. Although currently kept warm by fleshy human behinds, how long before our deeply embedded use of technology moves beyond a supportive role and those same seats feel the embrace of a steel behind?
Let’s start with those bespectacled guardians of language, the humble copywriter. The creativity of great copywriters goes beyond knowing what all the words mean and the complex rules required to stick them together.
That said, what keeps the lights on is the repetitive grind of writing multiple short form copy that conform to precisely the tight and structured brief that the robots love. These kinds of restricted tasks are perfect for artificial intelligence. A thousand versions on why a client’s dogwood tastes like heaven? Beep, beep, done.
Even the simple, and oft taken for granted, digital tools like spelling and grammar check save countless hours and increase output, but there is a trade-off.
Expected output has increased as fast as the software that supported its increase. Ideas now needs to be moulded into an ever-growing number of formats, executions and social channels.
The robot can already create multiple variations of copy but there will still need to be a decision to be made as to which is the one. Most copywriters are not confident that it’s something a robot can currently do.
“Creativity is something spontaneous and irregular, not an equation or code, at least not yet! Until that happens, I think I’ve got an edge on our robotic competition.”
A human copywriter
Unlike the literacy we take for granted, designing is something most are willing to admit they lack.
What started with charcoal on cave walls has been refined by every stage of technological development. Now much of what is created only exists in digital form. We design with pixel-perfect accuracy and the programs that help us do it are not slowing down in the advanced utility they provide.
“I like to think my experience means I’m the only one who can do what I do, and that does play a part, but anyone who knows the pain of deep etching knows the difference magnetic lasso makes.”
A human designer
Deep etching is digitally separating an object from its background. With Adobe’s magnetic lasso tool, it makes this process easier with every iteration. A specialist skill taking days can now be done by a junior in hours.
The speed at which we consume content is affecting all creatives, but as creatures primarily driven by what we see, designers feel it more than most. One good design is no longer enough, we need one hundred, or at least one hundred, slight variations for each emerging channel.
The robots are rapidly learning to recognise things within images, and this goes beyond ‘Hotdog, Not Hotdog’. There are already programs, capable of image selection and placement of text, producing infinite variations. Yet without the ability to select the one, can this be seen as a creative threat?
Is the role of sector is one that the robots are trying to master. McCann Japan created an AI creative director and pitted it against a human one. Both were given the same brief and asked to create a TVC. The results were voted on by the public, with the human winning by four per cent. Hardly a margin that inspires feelings of security.
An emerging theme has been the role selection plays in the creative process. It is this that seems to give creatives, rightly or wrongly, some sense of security. The selection of the idea by us humans usually results in a single outcome. The potential threat from the robots will be their ability to iterate and replace their ideas in real time.
The infinite canvas provided by our online existence combined with our unrelenting appetite to consume content means the ability to create infinite versions of creative is an attractive one for brands. If we define success as clicks or views and we can switch out creative until one starts performing, is the role of selector also one that could be threatened?
A partnership, not war, between us and the robots, does seem a far more palatable an idea, and when we analyse our current use of technology, it does seem to be the likely outcome. And yet, as we marvel at our existing capabilities and how far we have come, it is hard not to look forward and imagine a time when the impossible is possible, and the far-fetched is the everyday.
For now, we can feel safe that the changes technology makes to our lives are positives ones. Saving us time and allowing what was once specialist to be accessible to all. But does this present a new threat? If, with the right digital tools, the specialist nature of what we do becomes available to all, should we be more threatened by the up-skilling unemployed than the robots that took their jobs?