How can Artificial Intelligence ignite human creativity?

07.02.2020 · By LOYAL AI

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 it 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 artificial intelligence 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. They constantly rely 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 is something arguably reserved for humans, not machines. It is rooted in both conscious experience and the world around us. “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.

“The real fear should be the fact that people are now working like machines – not the other way around”

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.

Flipping the working dynamic

“Over 30 years or so, the professional creative industry has become less and less creative,” says Roelof Pieters, machine-learning pundit and Founder at “Agencies and design firms have started to industrialise creativity,” he explains. “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 work. This could 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

Above: Yarza Twins founders, Eva and Marta Yarza

At the forefront of this new wave of making and doing is award-winning design agency, Yarza Twins. It has enlisted AI to help it produce visually stimulating artwork for British vodka brand Smirnoff­. For this particular project, the team uploaded 21 faces, 21 bodies and a selection of backgrounds to a machine-learning software named D4D. They were taken aback by the results.

“We threw our designs into the software and the computer amalgamated this data. It churned out a vast amount of different random combinations – all new, di­fferent and exciting,” says Marta Yarza who cofounded 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.”

Smirnoff_Closeup (4)
Above: Yarza Twins AI-generated artwork for Smirnoff

“The human aspect is so ridiculously important but thinking about human and machine as a team is what’s going to drive the future”

From here, the sisters take on the role of creative curators. They select the artwork they like best. Then, using their uniquely human “deep mental models” – as Tse terms it – to do what the machine can’t. They 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.

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We collaborated with @hp and #Smirnoff to create a special edition bottle using HP Smartstream #D4D. Because it is called Smirnoff no.21, we made 21 different faces (from every corner of the world), hats, bodies and patterns. These patterns were all based on the Smirnoff iconic eyebrown logo, reflecting on the concept "every one the same, every one different". We wanted to bring a bit of colour, kindness and positiviness 🕊 to the world, which is becoming hostile, selfish and depressing. . . Hemos colaborado con HP y Smirnoff para crear una edición especial de una botella usando HP Smartstream D4D, un software que randomiza tus diseños. Puesto que se llama Smirnoff 21, hemos hecho 21 cabezas, cuerpos, sombreros y patterns. Estos patterns están basados en la icónica forma del logo de Smirnoff, reflejando así el concepto de “Todos somos iguales, todos somos diferentes”. Queremos aportar un poco de apertura de mentes, bondad y positivismo al mundo, que cada vez parece más hostil, egoísta y deprimente. . . #hpxyarzas #yarzatwins #artdirection #creativedirection #spanishartist #spanishdesign #diseño #packaging #portrait #weareopen

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Uniting forces

Working together is key, says Ben Gancz, Director at AI developer Qumodo. “We need to look at brokering the relationship between the user and the machine. The user should 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. They can appreciate it and understand the back story,” he says.

And, just like the Yarza Twins, Gancz sees new technology as something worth embracing. Some 63% of creatives are also 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.”

Looking to the future

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, the creative vision will always have to be there first. That’s where humans come in.

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This piece has been adapted from an original article written for Workspace’s homeWORK magazine.