“Open the Pod Bay Doors, HAL.” Why AI Should Terrify You.

Catfish Russ

AlphaZero is the world’s greatest Chess champion. AlphaZero is not a dystopian zombie X Box game. It’s something far more frightening. It’s a computer algorithm that played itself tens of thousands of times until it became the world’s top Go and Chess champions in only about the span of a day. Just to be sure, Chess is a quite complex game that requires not just logic but creativity. If you happen to be in the creative business, perhaps a designer or a copywriter or an art director, let me ask you this, how long do you think before your concepting job will be done by an algorithm?

How many times has someone said, “well a computer won’t be able to come up with the idea.”

You know what? Yes, it will. And let’s say the idea isn’t that good, then who will care? No one. Who cares when an ad agency comes up with a bad idea? Clients? OK. Is it devastating? No. You simply adapt and move on. If say, a digital creative director comes up with an idea that gives you a better idea then who would not like that? What if it doesn’t win an Addy? Oh, an advertising award? No, no one will discount this because it doesn’t bring home a Lucite statue. Again accolades will in the short term become unimportant. People will see is a new service or product that makes things less complex.

In ten years, the digital creative directors will be creating exceptional work. And no one will remember or care about the times when a person could out think a machine.

About 10 years ago, a large company asked people like me to participate in an experimental digital platform that asked your Social Security number and it created and rendered a website about you. The site was only two pages but it was not bad at all. I was astonished how fast it worked. How surprising some of the content was and how useless I felt as a man who had just opened a digital production company.

“Alexa, I need a cool idea to help market a fishing supply store,” says the owner of a fishing supply store that needs to market itself.

“Siri, find me a great photo of an old stamped metal child’s toy,” asks a toy store owner.

Meanwhile a copywriter’s phone doesn’t ring. Because Alexa and Siri were augmented by a copywriter plug in that helps write crisp copy.

This is the beginning of the end of paid concept work. Zone Out Silicon Valley is a movie written and edited by an AI. Using existing footage from many sources the AI wrote the script and put the movie together. It will not win any awards. It will however be like the first iteration of a laptop computer. Not great but still fairly amazing. In five years, an AI will win an Academy Award.

Read this Luddite screed from a writer named ZEE who published this in Newsweek ten years ago. It’s essential claim? The Internet will fail:

“Even if there were a trustworthy way to send money over the Internet–which there isn’t–the network is missing a most essential ingredient of capitalism: salespeople.

What’s missing from this electronic wonderland? Human contact. Discount the fawning techno-burble about virtual communities. Computers and networks isolate us from one another. A network chat line is a limp substitute for meeting friends over coffee. No interactive multimedia display comes close to the excitement of a live concert. And who’d prefer cybersex to the real thing? While the Internet beckons brightly, seductively flashing an icon of knowledge-as-power, this nonplace lures us to surrender our time on earth. A poor substitute it is, this virtual reality where frustration is legion and where–in the holy names of Education and Progress–important aspects of human interactions are relentlessly devalued.”

Guess what? No one really cares whether the ice cream they bought was picked out by an algorithm that mined your shopping receipts for what kind of desert you buy. Oh, ice cream. That’s what you want. Great. And which brand and flavor of ice cream you prefer? Rocky Road. Got it.

Today’s marketing directors stitch together programs that push products and services for companies large and small. Soon algorithms will do the same job. Marketing directors will approve and oversee AI marketing, but essentially the creativity will be automated. An AI will configure a message across platforms, buy the right Adwords, execute a reasonable SEO and SEM strategy, manage a marketing budget and more.

“Download the Art Director App today. It always shows up for work on time and with a clear head. It doesn’t smoke pot. It never needs to run and pick up a kid and it is never going to ask for a raise. The Award-Winning Art Director App is just ten bucks more but guarantees your shelves will be buckling under the weight of Lucite statues. The Art Director App. All the talent minus the attitude.”

Chase Bank has already engaged an AI to write ads: From INC. Magazine.

Here are two headlines. One was written by a human. One was written by a robot. Can you guess which?

Access cash from the equity in your home. Take a look.

It’s true — You can unlock cash from the equity in your home. Click to apply.

Both lines of marketing copy were used to pitch home equity lines of credit to JPMorgan Chase customers. The second garnered nearly twice as many applications, according to the Wall Street Journal. It was generated by Persado’s artificial intelligence tool.

This is why Chase just signed a five-year deal with Persado Inc., a software company that uses artificial intelligence to tweak marketing language for its clients. After a trial period with the company, Chase has found Persado’s bot-generated copy incredibly effective. “Chase saw as high as a 450 percent lift in click-through rates on ads,” Persado said in a statement.

That email might have been written by a bot.

Chase says it will use Persado’s tool to rewrite language for email promotions, online ads, and potentially snail mail promotions. It’s also looking into using the tool for internal communications and customer service communications.

So, let’s go back to the title of this. Why are 2001 A Space Odyssey and Blade Runner the most important movies of the modern day? OK. Forget floods, asteroids, aliens, epidemics, and demons.

The biggest issues facing us will be: what is alive? And if we create a machine that is alive, then does it have rights?

“I hate my AI,” will be a common lament.

“Please don’t turn off my AI. It has been my friend for all of my life,” will be another.

This is our future. And if you think a machine can’t replace you, well, in an economic sense, you are already wrong.


Catfish Russ

Creative Director