Mike Beukes
May 19, 2023

Could we put the AI genie back in the bottle?

The creative classes are under attack, but is it too late to do something?

Could we put the AI genie back in the bottle?

Earlier this month, Geoffrey Hinton, the "godfather" of AI, left his job at Google so he could speak openly about the need for us to pull the handbrake on the AI arms race, which is currently exploding around the world. (And granted, he was also 75, so age played its part too.)

Along with this, leaders of the AI world, from Elon Musk to Yoshua Bengio signed an open letter calling for a pause on all developments more advanced than the current version of AI chatbot ChatGPT, so robust safety measures could be designed and implemented.

For a while now, AIs have been used for anything from evaluating legal documents to composing music. But what’s happened recently is the rise of artificial general intelligence.

In short, it’s not just helping on specific queries in a focal area, but all the seemingly endless possibilities within that, as well as having a broad well of information to draw from.

On one side, as an industry (and within our agency), we’re hugely excited about the possibilities. We’re seeing work that uses AIs from self-generating Christmas cards to Asics’ work that retrains AIs on what the genuine benefits of exercise are.

We’re integrating it into our workflows, using the likes of Midjourney or DALL-E to help us with anything from building mood boards and mock-up assistance, through to being a sparring partner on creating design concepts or art direction.

Creatives are drawing inspiration and generating wild card (and, more often than not, rather average) ideas with a few keystrokes.

Copywriters have an army of chatbot interns to help write hundreds of lines in minutes to inspire their final work. And I would love to see the stats of how many emails are currently being written by ChatGPT across businesses.

We’re in it as an industry. And with that, has come a rise of many, many AI creative agencies, professing faster, cheaper, better creative work; yet quickly forgetting that output still has to be built on proper human insights.

The legitimacy of (already under siege) journalism has been dented as chat bots roll out fake news articles by the bucket load. Job titles like "prompt engineer" are suddenly acceptable and paying up to a mind-boggling $375,000.

And new AI tools are popping up literally every single day, spurring a category explosion unlike anything I’ve seen.

While this has been on the boil for many years, it’s only really, truly exploded in the past 12 months, as ChatGPT’s hype hit headlines.

And unlike the metaverse, which still seems to be a solution looking for a problem, this has been a fundamental game changer.

Question is, as an industry, what is our role in all of this? We’re quick to adopt, but with the leaders of AI making some drastic statements, surely we should also be playing our part.

The AI genie is ready to grant us unlimited wishes, so how can we be responsible with what we ask from it?

And one of the major issues is how it’s been a veritable attack on the independent creative class that feed the inspiration for the work and sometimes the actual work that we do. The writers, authors, illustrators, artists.

Full disclosure, that the quote is from my sister – Lauren Beukes – who is also a bestselling author and executive producer of Apple TV+’s The Shining Girls: “I’m very worried that the entry level jobs are being replaced by AI – exactly the kind of drudge work artists and writers have always relied on to pay the bills while honing our craft.

“It’s a huge threat to the creative class. We’re not yet at the level where AI can write a complex novel, but I don’t think we’re that far off from a paint-by-numbers action movie or romcom that will satisfy the streamers’ algorithms aiming to serve up exactly-more-like-that.”

Of course, it’s easy to poke problems and fearmonger, but what we need are solutions. And here’s a starter for 10:

  • Copyright infringement is a huge issue, with stylistic prompts often drawing from the names of specific artists or writers. So, could we use the block chain to link creations in their style to a micro-payment back to them? Or allow them to opt out from the use of their content entirely.
  • Creating transparency on AI-augmented/created work, both to consumers and to clients. Think the "paid promotion" tag for influencers.
  • Consciously and transparently build AI tools into our workflows in ways that clients can be legitimately charged for the different cadence of work. And then roll out extensive training to assist entry level-teams to best use the tools
  • Create an industry charter that puts in a set of standards in terms of how we produce content. These could be things like: not flooding the internet with meaningless content, just because we can; preventing "fake news"-style work from entering the system, which uses imagery such as the Pope’s puffer jacket, etc.
  • Putting together a think tank and rolling out action to protect the path of junior people entering the industry, whose jobs are genuinely under threat if you look at them in their current form.

For me, I’m not sure that genie will go back into the bottle. We’ll never unsee what we’ve seen. And while the current hype is massive, it feels different to the other Web 3 pundits.

It’s more accessible, more useful, and frankly a lot more powerful. And we need to find ways to play nice with this genie, so it can help propel our industry forward in the most positive ways possible. 

Mike Beukes is executive creative director at Boldspace

Campaign UK

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