Combining art and science is something Miguel de Andres-Clavera does on a daily basis. In his creative lab at Google’s APAC headquarters in Singapore, he works with organisations to push the limits of technology and tell meaningful brand stories that have a real-life impact.
In doing, he says, brands must be willing to stretch and test their imagination because “we can’t solve problems with the same mind-set that created them”.
How will the emergence of AI and machine learning affect the creative process?
From a big picture perspective, the fundamentals of marketing won’t change. And the core principles of what marketing means and represents will stay the same. What will change is the approach that brands will take. At Google we have a process of training, testing and trusting that we always follow.
Every 10 years a new computing paradigm emerges — we’ve seen this with the web, mobile and now with AI. At the beginning of every shift there is a sense of unease, but as you experiment and connect the dots, you begin to see outcomes and can then start articulating what this means in people’s everyday life. This is where it gets exciting. We’re doing a lot of this work with brands at the moment.
Ultimately it all boils down to this: We thought we were creative, but we haven’t yet reached our creative potential because we’ve had to do so many mundane tasks that are preventing us from exploring things differently.
As more and more AI-powered devices become available, how is the relationship between man and machine likely to change?
As machines start to take care of things that, as humans, we’re not very good at, like recognising patterns and understanding huge amounts of information, learning to trust the machines is going to be very interesting. I think it will happen naturally because it will free you up, help you do things that you care about, and ultimately give meaning to your life. In this respect, AI will help you feel more creative, more human.
In an increasingly cluttered digital world, how is Google embracing new technology in creative ways?
The core of what we do is experimentation, and using tech in meaningful ways. For example, we’ve been working with Cornell University to understand how we can use social robotics to help autistic children learn social skills.
Working with therapists we discovered that autistic kids really love watching YouTube. We were presented with two challenges: The need to help kids understand what they are watching from an emotional perspective, and then help them translate what they learn on YouTube into the real world.
At the same time autistic kids really enjoy spending time with little objects, this idea of having a safety blanket or a little teddy, which is commonly used by therapists. Then we started thinking about ways to create a robotics platform that is connected to YouTube and, via machine learning, can react to certain cues in a video that will help therapists and families through the process of teaching kids social skills.
We’ve done this using soft materials, so instead of looking at robotics as shiny and expensive, we’ve used low-cost materials like cardboard and wool that can help kids participate in the process of customising the actual character. We call it Blossom, because the aim is to help kids bloom —obviously. At the moment we are finalising the prototype and working with therapists to explore best functionalities.
You’ve been working in Singapore for close to five years now. How does innovative thinking in Asia compare to that in other regions?
It’s amazing. What I like about this part of the world is the eagerness to experiment and innovate, the pace [at which people want to try new things], and perhaps the fact that it’s a largely mobile-first and in some cases mobile-only market.
This generally means that brands [and consumers] have this inherently agile way of approaching problems. Some of the projects we’ve done really would not have been possible anywhere else.
In December 2017, we launched the Hyper Court project in the Philippines with Nike, which we’re hoping to scale across different markets. Again this started with a challenge. Nike came to us because basketball is huge in the Philippines.
All the ball players have mobile phones, but they don’t have data. So it’s very hard for them to up-skill and learn new things when they’re playing in open courts. We’ve been working with Nike on an interactive coach bot that allows players to access hyperlocal content on basketball, training drills and advice from NBA players — all without using data.
The feedback so far has been incredible. I don’t think this particular project could have worked so well, so fast, in any other country. When you serve real people with real needs, people really embrace innovation and are eager to try it.
What advice can you give to brands looking to engage consumers with AI-powered tech?
Don’t be afraid to experiment and see how you can have a bigger impact. Look beyond your immediate business objectives to see how you can make a change in people’s lives. Now, through technology, we can do things we weren’t able to do before.