Jon Williams
Apr 13, 2023

AI is currently at junior art director level, but it will be the boss one day

Everyone's favourite new toy will be your CCO, quicker than you can say ‘logarithmic growth’.

AI is currently at junior art director level, but it will be the boss one day

"The future is already here and it’s evenly distributing at 100 million active users per month." To misquote William Gibson, and to get the sci-fi voodoo out of the way up front. This is fact, not fiction.

From what I can see, if you as a business don't have an AI strategy, you’re failing your shareholders. And your employees. 

Maybe it’s too big to take in. Maybe it seems like a party trick. But it doesn't take long to work out that we’re on the cusp of a societal shift.

Our industry, as we know it, has already changed. In the past week, it felt like you needed AI to keep up with the chat about AI. And once you take it all in, history can help us.

"Wow, this is great, it works in tandem with humans. It won’t overtake us, though. It’ll be complementary. It might be able to do 80% of the job, but it will never take the last 20%.

"The human element. The spark. The magic. Whatever you want to call it. It needs handcrafting."

Hang on. Eighty per cent of your revenue just went pop. How are you going to make that up? More work? Are those billable hours? Is it making you work harder? Does the world really need more "stuff"?

Does that mean we increase the cacophony of media noise by 80%... or that we can lose 80% of the people doing the work. What do you think?

Yes, at the moment, it can’t do haiku. Or write "Surfer". But, like a junior art director, out of every 10 ideas, there will be one diamond in the dirt.

And like a junior art director, it will progress and become the boss one day.

It’s already had its first promotion. GPT4 has gone from two billion to four trillion data points.


What was previously a futurist vision has just become an immense fundamental shift in computing power and user interface. A societal upheaval. It changes everything.

Look at the potential for teaching. Every kid could have a teacher with immense knowledge and patience that can work with every child from every background, one-on-one. It finally delivers equality.

That’s a power for good. But not necessarily for teachers, doctors, solicitors... all knowledge work can be "upgraded". What about us?

It’s funny, isn't it? The view from the 1950s onwards has been that AI, robotics, automation, whatever, will come for blue-collar jobs first: the factory floor, then lower management, then higher management. Then the creative types.

This is all wrong. It’s backward. We’re first.

Surprisingly few voices have been chipping into the debate. I guess there's a lot of confusion. AKQA's Ajaz Ahmed nailed how it will drastically change procurement, in-housing and media.

But you could take it further.

You’re damn right it will affect media. Fundamentally. When you start to really think it through, it could be the end of search-based advertising: when the interface is conversational AI, there is no space for advertising real estate or banner ads or AdWords.

As an industry, we’ve still not come to terms with voice interaction yet. Are any brands really smashing it on Alexa? Exactly. And that’s scripted. How are you going to deal with an entity that is utterly beyond your control… where's the space for a brand?

What about production? The transcreation, amplification and adaptation businesses? If AI can do the 80% they build their businesses on, then what? 

Why haven't we woken up yet? Maybe it's the fact that it fits wonderfully into any process-driven business and, honestly, an agency has very little process in it.

How can you insert it if the process is unclear? Or do we really think it's a fad? Surely to god not.

If we did, then we’d be all over it. NFTs, the metaverse, blockchain… all shiny new toys when they arrived. But this, which is much more fundamental, seems to have had a comparatively muted reaction.

Currently, we are in the Incunabula of our age. That's the name given to a period in antiquarian book-collecting just after Guttenberg invented the printing press. It's from the Latin meaning "cradle".

During the Incunabula there were no conventions. There was a new technology. A massive leap in the methodology of information distribution.

Yet there were no rules; books from that period are unique and hence valuable.

But this period will pass. And books assumed conventions and the ideas they carried fanned the flames of the Renaissance and led to a new period of global prosperity and a shift in societal order.

It was a bit rough for the monks who used to handwrite the manuscripts, though. Think about that.

Jon Williams is founder and chief executive officer of The Liberty Guild.

Campaign UK

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