We speak to experts, including Workspace customers, at the forefront of the creative AI world, bridging the gap between man and machine to bring out the best in human creativity

Distrust in artificial intelligence (AI) is ubiquitous. The late Stephen Hawking dubbed AI the “worst event in the history of our civilisations”. Tech giant Elon Musk declared that “AI is a fundamental risk to the existence of human civilisation”. However, as we hurtle towards a world in which intelligent machines are fast becoming seamlessly integrated into the workplace, is such fear warranted?

One concern is our jobs. A report by management consultancy firm McKinsey predicts that AI will replace 75–375 million jobs – up to 14% of the global workforce – by 2030. But where does that leave creatives? Surely, original thinking, serendipity and external, sometimes random influences – all intrinsic to the creative process – make creativity a profoundly human trait that is safe from emulation?

The human touch

Indeed, the complexity of the human brain is astonishing. Every human, regardless of their sphere of work, is fundamentally creative, constantly relying on “deep mental models to take known components from our environment and construct new things from them,” says Dr Peter U. Tse, cognitive neuroscientist at Dartmouth College in the US. This internal virtual reality that we might call imagination – rooted in both conscious experience and the world around us – is something arguably reserved for humans, not machines. “In the absence of mental models that reside in conscious experience, robots and AI systems will at best approach tasks ‘as if’ creative,” says Tse. More and more, however, creatives are lacking the time to be just that – creative.

Trading dreaming for sifting through files of stock images to meet client demands, creative jobs have become increasingly menial. A study by global computer software developer Adobe found that almost three-quarters of creatives spend more than half their time on repetitive, uncreative tasks, yet time is crucial for creatives to do what they do best: experiment.

“Over 30 years or so, the professional creative industry has become less and less creative,” says Roelof Pieters, machine-learning pundit and Founder at Creative.ai. “Agencies and design firms have started to industrialise creativity and the real fear should be the fact that people are now working like machines – not the other way around.”

This working dynamic needs to be inverted, suggests Pieters. AI can streamline and optimise complex, tedious or repetitive processes to remove the drudgery and to free up time to allow humans to do what they do best. Together machine and human can work in tandem to empower creativity, he claims.

Shaking things up

Workspace customers are at the forefront of this new wave of making and doing. Yarza Twins, an award-winning design agency formerly based at Workspace’s China Works in Vauxhall, has enlisted AI to help it produce visually stimulating artwork for British vodka brand Smirnoff (see page 40). For this particular project, the team uploaded 21 faces, 21 bodies and a selection of backgrounds to a machine-learning software named D4D, and were taken aback by the results.

Mata and Eva YarzaCo-founders at Yarza Twins

“We threw our designs into the software and the computer amalgamated this data and churned out a vast amount of different random combinations – all new, different and exciting.” says Marta Yarza, who co-founded the business with twin sister Eva. “We like the fact that it’s a mix between something you make and something the computer makes for you.”

From here, the sisters take on the role of creative curators. They select the artwork they like best, using their uniquely human “deep mental models” – as Tse terms it – to do what the machine can’t and make the most interesting choice of image. It is at this point that their creative vision has legs to reach fruition. Rather than their being slaves to technology, the technology acts as an enabler. “A lot of designers and creatives have been experimenting with AI – and even holograms – and we’re at the beginning of something new. It’s a new era of design, and that’s exciting,” says Marta.

Yarza Twins AI-generated designs

A collective of expert designers and engineers who go by the name of BDI Precision, also located at China Works, is enabling such creatives to reach their full potential. The business uses a wide range of computer-aided design software of a type more commonly applied to the animation and gaming industries, but in an engineering context.

William Wood, Design Engineer, says “We couple a more fluid design approach with 3D-scanning and 3D-printing technology to bring the most complex forms to life. By reducing the cost of one-off parts, we are able to foster creativity and promote design iteration.”

Uniting forces

Working together is key, says Ben Gancz, Director at AI developer Qumodo, based at The Print Rooms in Southwark. “We need to look at brokering that relationship between the user and the machine so that the user can form a team with the machine and get the strength of both agents.”

“The human aspect is so ridiculously important but thinking about human and machine as a team is what’s going to drive the future,” he says. “Humans are very good at context when they look at an image. They can appreciate context, they can understand the back story,” he says.

And, just like the Yarza Twins, Gancz sees new technology as something worth embracing, along with 63% of creatives who are strongly or very strongly interested in having a head start in AI, according to Adobe’s study.

“It’s a really knotted and complex thing around trust in AI,” says Gancz. “People aren’t perfect and machines aren’t perfect but quite a lot of what we’re seeing is that when you put the two together, you can get much more from either counterpart than on their own.”

Ben GanczDirector at Qumodo

As we step into the unknown, it seems one thing is for sure: AI will have an impact, but only on productivity. It may be supreme in detecting patterns at lightning-fast speeds, but that far from defines creativity. In order to break down such patterns in unexpected ways, and to venture into the unforeseen, the creative vision will always have to be there first – that’s where humans come in.

If you’re a developer keen to learn more, head to fast.ai for courses in AI deep learning.

Read Get AI Equipped to find out which are the best creative artificial intelligence apps to get you started. For more from the businesses at the forefront of AI innovation, check out Welcome to the Machine Part 1 and Part 2.

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