Creativity and Intelligence – Underpinning the New Economy

Digital Art AI

Artificial Intelligence and Creativity

The movies might suggest that AI is intelligent and malevolent. Richard Adams explains why Artificial Intelligence will be our servant for a long while yet.

A few weeks ago I spoke on a panel, at the WebWeWant Festival on London’s South Bank, about the portrayal of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in film. What struck me most, from the response of the audience, was how much our view of AI is coloured by media portrayals of the subject. Most people’s views were immediately within the area of anthropomorphic robots and intelligent, malevolent, but very human computer systems. My view was that AI will mostly be something much more mundane. It may possibly have unfathomable motives, if indeed it has motives as we understand them, but mundane it will be.

In fact, most AI we encounter over the next few decades, will be buried so deep in society, via the economy, that we don’t know it’s there. This is practical AI. This type of AI is built on data and smart analytics with insights then being based on probability. This is the type of AI we will all be soon encountering in smart banking and health systems, among others.

What’s this got to do with art and design you cry? Well, lots, as it happens.

Economy, Automation and Artificial Intelligence

The economy is being reshaped by automation as we speak. There is a whole class of economy that exists purely as machine to machine. New forms of online currencies threaten to undermine the banking system. We are changing our habits so that the rise of mobile banking is having a serious effect on the number of physical branches of banks. Privacy is a thing of the past and we are delivered entertainment that has been carefully selected for us by algorithms. Within our fields of art and design there is very little left that doesn’t become digital at some point. Even the most traditional painter will create digital prints and, as I have written elsewhere, the new crafts are largely computer driven in nature.

Use of full scale analytics, the first step to creating smartness, (practical AI is based on among other things, huge datasets) can do several things for artists, designers, craftspeople and creative businesses.

Artificial Intelligence for Artists, Designers and Craftspeople

First and foremost, it can enable you to understand your audience better. If you have a new content management system for your site, it may well allow you to target pieces directly at individuals based on their browsing history. For example, many new CMS’s can count the number of times an IP address looks at a piece of content and then, upon reaching a trigger number, display personalised content. So for example, if someone looks at a piece of jewellery on your site three times in one day, the site can change the content to a more sales targeted offer, which means on the fourth viewing the sell message is one that is targeted at that behaviour. You can of course do this manually using free analytics services such as Google Analytics.

Secondly, let’s go one step deeper. AI will impact the role of artists in many ways, mostly as yet, unseen, however, advanced image analysis by AI has been very much in the news due to Google’s Dream system and the disturbing images it has created. There are many different forms of image processing and over the next few years these will become easier to use as well as becoming more commercially useful. For instance, we may find that using this technology to extrapolate out which images/pots/earrings are the most popular on your site, and what, visually they have in common, is a good commercial usage. Understanding that may help you design things that are more like what people actually seem to want.

Google Dream

Google Deep Dream Code

Thirdly, though, what about the higher arts, the purists? How does this affect them? Well it is perfectly possible now to get these AI techniques to work for them. A recent story from the MIT technology Review, shows that AI is already being developed that may affect the way even Art Historians work. Of course, if they are smart they will use the technology to make their insights better and their own understanding less based on their prejudices. This is, in some ways, intellectual clickbait, as we are some way from AI being able to even remotely understand the more human sides of art in a meaningful way, but this is potentially another tool to us to help us make better informed decisions.

AI to help and serve us

This is my point really; having been on the sharp end, architecting smart systems, my view of AI is far from it being our masters, for the time being at least it is very much a servant. I would also say that any creatives who are using digital channels within their practice would benefit enormously from doing a course on basic analytics and techniques for interpreting data. This, in the context of the emerging digitised economy is going to help you, not replace you.

The new creative economy is one that is already looking like it will be an arts and crafts economy, rather than design and high art, which was essentially the twentieth century model. If you were opening an art school now you would be crazy to ignore this shift and existing art schools should be tearing up what they do to address these changes. Indeed the UK’s education secretary, Nicky Morgan (at time of writing) has been castigated for saying that kids should only do STEM subjects. This is where the fact that she is product of an outdated education system shows through. She, and many other politicians, fail to grasp that the future of our economies won’t only rely on technological innovation, but also on how we use it creatively. They only see the means of production, not the ways in which is it used.

I believe that in the world of AI that is coming, artists and creatives are better placed to exploit technologies than most. More people should be undergoing creative education not fewer, but the nature of that creative education will have to change and start with data.

Industry Experts article written by:

Richard Adams

Richard Adams

Consultant and Program Manager, Royal Shakespeare Company

Big Data and Creativity

A digital veteran, starting in the early 90’s as a computer artist, Richard has made numerous interactive things across all channels. He founded a Digital Arts Dept, held a Visiting Professorship and worked with Marc Lewis to open the School of Communication Arts. Creative Director, Product Development Head and more, at BBC, BSkyB, Aviva and Microsoft (Xbox). Currently at the RSC, he is also Senior Fellow at University of Lincoln.


Image Credits: Top: Paolo, “macrocosmic” (Creative Commons)

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