New technology has long sparked a mixture of fear and fascination within the creative industries. But the existential panic has risen to a whole new level with the arrival of generative AI.
While some argue that the technology will boost human creativity and productivity, many see it as the robots coming to take over.
The fruits of AI’s labour are already in evidence across the creative industries, with AI artworks winning prizes, and AI-generated Drake and The Weeknd songs going viral.
Meanwhile, in the brand world, we’re seeing AI-created ad campaigns, from the likes of Martini and Coca-Cola, and Levi’s controversial use of AI models on its website to boost "representation".
Regardless of whether you fall on the side of Nick Cave, who described a song produced by ChatGPT that is “written in the style of Nick Cave” as “a grotesque mockery of what it is to be human”, or Grimes, who has welcomed the use of her voice in AI-generated songs – if you work in the creative industries, you will in some way encounter AI.
But the threat it poses to our creativity and even our jobs should be the least of our concerns right now.
It's surprising, considering all the talk about sustainability in the business and brand world, that there is comparatively little hand-wringing over the impact of AI and tech on our planet.
Because, while the likelihood of AI killing off human creativity is up for debate, there’s no question that, at its current rate of expansion, it presents the death knell for our planet.
MIT has reported that training a single AI model can emit nearly five times the lifetime emissions of an average American car.
The cloud now has a larger carbon footprint than the entire airline industry, and a single data centre may consume the same amount of electricity as 50,000 homes.
As tech companies compete in the escalating AI arms race and these tools increase in size, so too does the potential devastation to the planet.
At the same time, AI is being hailed by some as a powerful tool in the fight against climate change, with uses ranging from regulating power grids to helping design more energy-efficient buildings.
But its potential here should not mean we turn a blind eye to the need for robust regulations to prevent the AI tools from becoming more efficient at hastening climate change than fighting it.
As Virginia Dignum, professor in social and ethical AI at Umea University in Sweden, has said: “AI is both an enabler and potentially a destroyer of the climate fight.”
What’s clear is that while many brands are having fun with the shiny new toy of AI, business and brand leaders need to take a leap beyond the novelty stunts to determine and assess AI’s role in their business, from logistics to manufacturing, and what that means for their triple bottom line.
Since AI looks set to be more than a mayfly moment in our industry, along with the production costs of IRL shoots versus AI-generated video content coming under scrutiny in future, there will also likely be calls for AI-generated images and copy to be clearly attributed.
Right now, the industry should be focusing on the ethics of using AI-generated imagery and models and the potential impact of warped beauty standards resulting from AI images on the next generation.
Of course, some would be happy to let AI determine on such issues but, when I last checked, AI doesn’t have a human conscience.
So, here’s to human brain power and behaviour saving our only known home before AI takes it beyond the brink.
Malcolm Poynton, global chief creative officer, Cheil Worldwide