Batteries not included: why creativity is always relevant

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Jade Trott, OLIVER

Jade Trott is art director at OLIVER, the creative agency - and responsible for the iconic Selfridges 'Self' campaign. She shares her driving philosophy - lean on technology all you like, but you'll never get anywhere without intuition and a flair for ideas.

We don’t need computers.

Computers, like batteries, can power you. But don’t rely on them. It's why my philosophy for life is 'Batteries Not Included'.

Despite rapid technological innovation, batteries aren’t included when it comes to creativity. You’ve got to work things out for yourself, and fill in the blanks with more than just the information that’s been fed to you.

‘Batteries not included’ is what I’d call the most progressive creativity, and a philosophy that’s worked best for me throughout my career.

If you’re really good, then you can make something out of nothing. You can be a Master Builder, like in the LEGO Movie. You have the ability to make connections no mechanised system could.

Artistic Intelligence

There’s no rebellion in the AI world - which is probably a good thing, if Terminator’s anything to go by. There’s no Che Guevara, no Alan Moore, no impressionists.

There is, however, a Salvador Dali.

The exhibition ‘Dali Lives’, was created by Goodby, Silverstein & Partners (GS&P), who made a life-size re-creation of Dali using AI. They used an algorithm to create Dali’s face, with footage from interviews. His facial expressions were then imposed over an actor, and quotes were paired with a voice performer who could mimic his unique accent, which was a mix of French, Spanish and English.

There’s 45 minutes of never-before-seen footage, which creates thousands of potential output combinations. It means everyone gets a different experience. The artist appears before you, tells you stories about his life, sometimes he even opens a newspaper with today’s front page. And he always knows what the weather is like outside.

A very surreal experience indeed - and a great example of AI done well.

Look at something like Nvidia’s AI face-building Apocalypse Machine. It was incredible, but it didn’t actually ‘build’ faces. It replicated, morphed, bent faces it knew. But it wasn’t creating new things. It was just good at perennial extension.

Another recent example of that is the bizarre, 24/7 AI death metal generator. It’s been able to pick up nuances between different subgenres of heavy metal and churns out an endless yolk of noise, very occasionally stumbling upon a hook, a groove. Is it impressive? Certainly. Will anyone be listening to it over Napalm Death? Probably not.

Some people view AI as a reaction to our human mistakes. We’re always looking to iron out errors, but that’s not human. We’re not perfect. We’re late to meetings. We forget to text people back.

Human mistakes lead to ingenious results

One of my proudest pieces of work was a happy accident. I was working for Selfridges, and had done a mock-up of slogans, assuming we’d add photos later. Turns out there was no budget for photos, so we heroed the text instead, and it became a trait Selfridges still employs today.

If you feed a bunch of variables into a machine-learning system, would it offer the same outcome? Maybe, maybe not.

But that human touch can’t be underestimated.

You can’t replace bouncing thoughts around, and letting ideas flow across the table. It’s a gut reaction, that stirs timeless truths.

All it takes is one idea - one idea that sparks a campaign. AI and automated processes are here to help us be creative, but they’re not going to be creative on our behalf.

Or, at least, not as creative. Save the batteries for when they’re needed.