If bot then what? The illogical power of creativity

There’s no getting away from it; robots are taking over.

Driverless cars, fridges that pre-order groceries, even IBM doctors that can diagnose the common cold. Closer to home, marketing automation is the new normal for DM, programmatic ad-buys are out buying everyone and now Facebook is on record as introducing robots that can talk you into buying stuff with little or no human intervention.

The pace, the scale and the potential of change begs relevant use of the word ‘disruptive’. But what does all this mean for creativity? Let’s step back in time to look at the future – and why I don’t think it’s all that scary after all.

Robots are nothing new

When the first caveman picked up the first rock, he cracked open more than a nut. Tools have helped humans increase productivity since the year dot. The Industrial Revolution powered up those tools into factories; the Information Revolution is connecting them together. And all this time the tools have been getting better. Every improvement drives social change. And these days we call the best of the tools robots. But, currently, they still work for us.

Even the latest innovations have been percolating for years. I built my first chatbot over 25 years ago. It was programmed into a 32K Electron and asked for my name. If I said ‘Michael’ it would determine that “Michael is awesome”. And if anyone else tried, it would tell them they were “a wally.” When I reprogrammed it this weekend into an online BASIC simulator – my eight year old got the same buzz I did. (Although we changed the language to “noo noo head” – apparently no one says “wally” any more.) 

Tools of the future regurgitate the past

As incredible as today’s robots now are, they still can’t think. Any robot or computer programme or humble screwdriver can only ever do what we tell it to do. That means we need to programme the past to redefine the future. People still make the rules. And while robots, like the tools they evolved from, will absolutely deliver increased productivity, hyper-efficiency and a level of accuracy no human can match, robots can’t come up with anything new.

Robots process. People create

And that’s the exciting news for us. Programmatic ad-buying robots can deliver relevant reach at scale. Linguistic key-word programming robots can scrape the zeitgeist, reorder the language and spit it out into social feeds at incredible speed. But only people can form an opinion or think an original thought. That’s salient right now as Buzzfeed revises its revenue forecast in half on the discovery that clickbait might be cheap – but quality, apparently, has value.

We’ll never beat the robots, but the robots will never win

For me, that’s the golden truth. Robots have already changed our industry out of sight. And it will continue to change. Just like it always has. But robots can’t challenge, robots can’t think and robots will never create. And that’s good news.

Our challenge is to embrace the change. The biggest growth at Hunch right now is colouring in the robots by adding human creativity to marketing automation. Different specialists will take different angles. And right across the advertising industry we’re being forced to turn the business model inside out. We know there’s no future in giving away our thinking and clawing back the cost in over-priced production or media clip. The robots have stolen that money. But there will never be a robot with the power to say no. There will never be a robot that asks “What if.” And there will never be a robot that has ideas in the shower or connects the truly random dots to think outside the proverbial box.

And even as our current obsession with ‘content’ sees stuff being produced at rates that make a mockery of our ability to ‘consume’ it, that content can never be created by robots. Because the key ‘404’ or programmatic failure of robots is that robots will never understand people.

Sure, robots will always beat us on their linear journey of if ‘this’ then ‘that’. But (so far) only people can create. So, as long as we continue to value our ability to add human value; as long as we embrace our power to dig through data and find real, human truths; and as long as we value the illogical and transformative power of creativity – humans will trump robots every day.

That’s what I reckon, what do you think?

  • Michael Goldthorpe runs a ‘small agency’ called Hunch.  

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Michael Goldthorpe is Managing Partner at Hunch.

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