Why We Need to Look at AI Innovation as a Digital Renaissance

Artificial intelligence is capable of creativity

We're entering a new age of creativity where tech can help influence it. Getty Images
Headshot of Ben Lamm

AI has become the new Ford assembly line, and I think it’s the worst thing that can happen to the technology.

In terms of reputation, both AI and the assembly line made a name for themselves by touting their abilities to automate. Both sold themselves as a tool able to do the grunt work of business—and do it quickly. For the assembly line, this jump in productivity meant cars that used to take 12 hours to build suddenly took less than two. With AI, we’re still in the midst of collecting results and proving its worth to the bottom line of business.

However, while AI’s numbers are still incoming, its reputation is nevertheless solidifying. AI is becoming synonymous with automation, and that’s a big problem. While automation is a fine contribution for a 20th-century invention, if we allow AI to have the same legacy as a piece of tech from 1917, we will have failed as both inventors and adopters.

Great AI is not about speed, and it’s not about crunching numbers, either. Those features are now a baseline requirement for tech rather than a breakthrough. Great AI should instead be able to innovate within your business, bringing new ideas and processes that surpass basic cost-cutting maneuvers. I believe that it should be an actual creative talent in your organization.

For the skeptics asking, “Can you code creativity?”, the answer is absolutely yes. AI can be right-brained; we’re just not paying the right amount of attention to it.

If we allow AI to have the same legacy as a piece of tech from 1917, we will have failed as both inventors and adopters.

What AI can learn from the Renaissance

Our own biases have shaped AI’s reputation as a rote machine. People don’t want to believe that AI can have the emotional intelligence or capability for divergent thought necessary to create new and engaging ideas. However, we’re already seeing this breakdown. AI is being used to create movie trailers and write Scrubs scripts. Given enough input, it’s clear that AI can create startling and beautiful output.

Still, it’s this relationship between training and creation that has held off many skeptics from bestowing the official title of creative talent onto AI. They believe the fact that AI needs to be trained by a human curator is proof that we’re still far afield from any real creativity born out of an AI brain. Cynics say that there’s nothing intrinsically creative about AI; it’s just what you feed it. They claim that the results of AI artists are still more about math than mastery. The technology synthesizes the rules of a particular art and then spits out something in return.

This is what happens in the most fundamental terms. However, it’s also what happens with humans. All art is reproduction. When we think back to the Renaissance, the most celebrated era of art in Western civilization, we see a similar model to AI’s input/output methodology.

Think about it: Renaissance apprentices would join workshops and watch their masters paint, aiming after years of study to learn the same techniques and skills of their teachers. The best apprentice would be able to translate these learnings into a new piece for a new patron. It was a relationship of input and output that only gained mysticism in the centuries that followed. Because of this, it’s a relationship that has incredible resonance with our understandings of creative AI.

History shows us that eventually apprentices outgrow their masters and become artists in their own right. I believe the same is possible for AI. Robin Sloan, a best-selling author, is using AI to write his next novel. He celebrates the idea that he shares similarity with his AI agent.

To be clear, that doesn’t mean we should settle for predictable, boring results from AI in creative industries. If your AI is acting too much like a paint-by-number set, you need to train it better. Additionally, we need to accept that there will be a calibration period. As businesses begin to incorporate AI into their creative industries, there will be a time of training AI for creativity. For a little while, AI will be the freshman art student—copying more than creating—but I believe it will quickly outgrow this role. And that’s when we reach a new age of creativity in the workplace.

A new age of creativity

It can be tough imagining AI with such creative capabilities and is even tougher thinking of getting ousted from a job by a creative robot. We are afraid because creativity in humans is little understood by experts. We’re still trying to figure out how much of our creative potential comes from nature versus nurture. We haven’t come any closer to being able to measure imagination. However, as we pull out creativity in AI, we will undoubtedly pull out creativity within ourselves and our team. 

We’ve already been floored by the results collaboration. Films like The Meg prove that AI deployed creatively can be profitable. Companies like IBM show that AI can be a valuable member of the creative team.

Why limit a tool to a paint-by-number set when it can be the next Michelangelo or Leonardo da Vinci? The era of creative AI is coming. Top-drawer creativity is a talent reserved for humans and supercharged by AI.

@federallamm Ben Lamm is co-founder and chairman of Hypergiant. (Disclosure: Adweek’s parent company, Beringer Capital, is a minority investor in Hypergiant.) He is also a member of the Adweek Advisory Board.