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ChatGPT: A creative tool or a threat to human creativity?

In case you missed it, we're republishing some of our most popular stories of the year so far. Here we look at the emergence of Chat GPT and its effect on creativity

By Olivia Atkins

Ryan Reynolds' experiment with AI-assisted chatbot ChatGPT made headlines earlier this month after he tested its ability to write an ad script for his mobile virtual network provider, Mobile Mint. And it wasn't terrible.

But even Reynolds admitted that its work was both 'mildly-terrifying and compelling.'

So what does this spell for the industry and creativity at large; should writers in particular (and creatives in general) worry that they'll be out of a job in future? Or can the tech be useful at ideation stage? And more importantly, how can we better prioritize and value human creativity to utilise new tech as a complementary tool rather than see it as a threat to human capabilities?

Will Lion, Joint Chief Strategy Officer at BBH London

First a threat, then a tool but after that just table stakes. If computers are bicycles for the mind, ChatGPT is a motorbike letting us go creatively further, faster with less effort. The rub comes when everyone has motorbikes. Neural networks trained on the same dataset will give the same outputs. That's just how they work. To find creative edge you'd have to either have more compute power to get there first, train it on a hand-tuned dataset or get really good at asking AI questions (cue Prompt Strategists in the 2020s). Just as an agency with Google beats one without it, so an agency with ChatGPT beats one without it. But when everyone has it, human ingenuity must re-engage again to find the uncharted space. As the Red Queen tells Alice (in Wonderland) when everyone is running 'It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!’. In the end, creativity levels up.

Jonothan Hunt, Senior Creative Technologist, Wunderman Thompson

I’m getting this question a lot at the moment with the emergence of more mainstream AI tools that don’t just generate content but can refine it through intuitive interfaces or even dialogue, at speed.

This is not new; ML/AI-powered tools in our creative software suites have made tasks like rotoscoping, feature selection, style transfer, feature-based cropping, resizing for different formats and so much more, happen instantaneously where before they might’ve taken hours, even weeks, or not even been practical. Now creatives use these tools every day.

Tools like ChatGPT are having such an impact because they don’t just assist in creation— they help with research, ideation and even prototyping too. Pretty much all the tangible ‘outputs’ of a creative. Just look at integrations of ChatGPT in places like You.com— for me and many others, a good proportion of traditional internet searches have been replaced by these tools and their ability to understand complex questions, generate readable insights from a bunch of information and even create new content (including code!).

It’s my opinion that creatives should know what these tools do and how to work with them, as well as understanding at least a little about how they work. And that’s not because creatives will be replaced; whilst these tools can be great at creating all of the above at scale, people remain better at topical cultural nuance both in the contexts of the audiences they’re creating for, and as importantly the people they’re selling their ideas to.

I think we remain in a space where the work that these tools can better us at is work that we should have the option to be freed from, so we can focus on what we’re really good at. Instead of spending ages trying to find the right search to get the perfect insight, why not come up with some thought starters with ChatGPT? Instead of scrolling through countless stock images that you’ll end up tweaking anyway for a scamp, why not brief an AI model for exactly what you want and use your time to refine the idea or different executions of it? Instead of writing believable text or using Lorem Ipsum for a site you’re designing, why not use any one of the many AI writing tools out there?

Looking into the next few years, we’ll see these models continue to automate heavily templated stuff like product-focused retargeting campaigns where countless combinations of content can be generated and tested to achieve more and better-quality clicks. More interesting to me however, will be watching as the creative industry is able to focus on making and selling more daring ideas.

There’s so much more for creatives specifically to be thinking about, from ethics (what is the training data for these models? Is my work being used? What’s the difference between me being vs. an AI model being inspired by someone else’s work? Who should decide what’s ethical? Users? Platforms? Governments?), to competition with other creatives (am I as effective as others who’ve learnt to work with and prompt these tools? Demand for more ideas and executions in a bunch of different formats ain’t going away!)

James Devon, Chief Strategy Officer, MBAstack

It’s hard to have a play with ChatGPT and not think it’s remarkable. I absolutely don’t think it’s the sole answer and I think we can assure copywriters their jobs are safe. However, I have seen ways how it can be helpful in our work.

1. Thought-starter generation. AI may not be brilliant output straight off the bat, but wonderful for generation without judgement. I can see ChatGPT being used in many a proposition generation session, in name generation or even as a starting point for headlines.

2. Summarising articles. Our client work at MBAstack takes us from flowers to mail to pet care to accounting to cheese. That’s a lot to be an expert on – previously I was only ever an expert on cheese. Taking essays and other functional outputs, I’ve found ChatGPT to be a worthy summariser.

3. Editing to a word count. Another classic task. Disaster, I’ve done the classic planner tactic of writing 116 words, when we needed it under 100. ChatGPT proves much easier than the editing of my own verbose phraseology.

4. Changing the tone of voice. We need our paragraph to be more inspiring. Let’s add some rousing tone of voice. Can an AI add a bit of hope? A bit of Obama “yes we can”? Yes, it can.

Clearly, such an important part of our line of work is the generation and iteration of thoughts and phrases. Whether the AI comes up with the right answer is not the point – it can help provide the stimulus for us to build on or select the most interesting direction. I’m on the side of it being a complementary tool, rather than a threat.

Katy Wright, Chief Executive Officer, FCB Inferno

We all said we’re terrified but equally WOW (wish I’d had this for my homework!)

For me it just shows what’s possible and frankly how it’s not subscription based I've no clue (no doubt it will be) . I think about how much that just enriches what we offer clients and how the boundaries of tech should support and frankly I’m excited and terrified but I love that feeling.

I don’t think writers should worry (just try asking it a joke!) they should see it complementing nay pushing, providing a starting off point.

Also quality comes down to questions you ask and thinking behind them…also current data (as a lot of these platforms are not live thinking openai is based on 2021 data points).

Technology is and has always been to make things easier/ better, so embracing change has always been the way forward or we’d still be on the savannah rather than considering space travel!

Tim Riley, Creative Partner, AMV BBDO

On May 9 1864, the Union General John Sedgwick and his infantrymen came under fire from Confederate snipers at Spotsylvania in Virginia. As the men took cover, Sedgwick strode back and forth, declaring: ‘They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance.’ Moments later, he was mortally wounded when a bullet struck him below the left eye. Any creative pronouncing that AI doesn’t pose a threat to their livelihood is risking a similar act of hubris.

Yet, while AI has come on in leaps and bounds recently, it’s still a work in progress. As Ian Leslie pointed out recently in his excellent Substack, ‘The Ruffian’, work created by bots tends towards “the generic, bland and superficial. What we have here, for now at least, is a machine for generating plausible bullshit.” He goes on to point out that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. “Anyone’s first draft is essentially a piece of bullshit. ChatGPT may prove a useful tool in the early stage of a creative project, enabling us to get more quickly to better ideas.”

My instinct is that AI creatives will probably co-exist with the human variety. New technologies don’t automatically replace everything that’s come before them. YouTube hasn’t replaced television. Television, in turn, didn’t replace radio. Though of course, I would say that, wouldn’t I? Ask a chatbot and you may get a different answer. For the moment, ChatGPT and its ilk still can’t hit the elephant. But they’re getting closer.

Alan Young, Chief Creative Officer, St Luke’s

We need to see AI as a builder would see the steam-shovel at the time of the Industrial revolution. In the way those machines augmented human muscle, AI will augment the human mind – boosting productivity, and saving time.

With Ryan Reynolds' Mint Mobile ad, the idea is its means of production. It isn’t what we’d call a concept and ChatGBT can be used conceptually.

On a pitch a fortnight ago and I gave it two briefs.

One, to re-name the technology inside the product. It made a series of suggestions every bit as good as the ones our project team members made.

Two, to generate a series of funny scenarios based on the product's USP. Its first efforts weren’t exactly rib-tickling, but refining of the instructions resulted in one scenario that formed the basis of one of five scripts we pitched.

It’s worth remembering the quality of ChatGBT's answers depends on the clarity of your instructions. It doesn’t have imagination, it just helps bring your imagination to life. Neither does it know when the answer is good - you decide that.

It’s early days for these scary and exciting tools and they will affect every creative person’s job. We’ve only got one option - work out how they can make us smarter and stay smarter.

Micky Tudor, Chief Creative Officer, The&Partnership

One evening, five years ago, was one of my most nerve-wracking moments in advertising.

I was waiting for a client script to arrive in my inbox. After months of preparation, an AI learning tool was about to spit out its script. One script. One ‘right’ answer was that we were going to shoot exactly as written, whatever it was. I needn’t have worried. The script would turn out to be eerily coherent - a car escaping its own imminent test crash. The project piqued the interest of Oscar-winning director Kevin McDonald and clients were invited to talk about the project on news outlets.

Five years later what has changed? There is still the sense of denial from some, and of wonder and experimentation from others, but this is beginning to give way to an impending sense of practicality. This year we will incorporate AI into workflows and the creative process more formally. Whether that be for thought starters, for inspiration, to get to ideas faster, or help look at an idea from a different angle.

And that’s exciting. Creativity finds inspiration and serendipity in all sorts of weird, wonderful and unexpected places. Technology is just one of them.

Drew Spencer, Executive Experience Design Director, adam&eveDDB

We’ve been worried about robots taking our jobs for decades. This is not new. And as robust and compelling as ChatGPT is, it’s not a true threat to human creativity. We shouldn’t think of it as a substitute. We should be excited about it! It’s the first really useful tool that AI has produced and we should embrace it for the opportunity it represents. They say there’s no such thing as an original idea - ChatGPT embodies this concept. It’s an emulator, built on everything that’s already been written down somewhere. It’s the ultimate magpie. It emulates us. It finds the patterns in our past and weaves them together in ways that feel magical but aren’t original. I believe that it can add value to the creative process, but it will never compete with the limitless realm of human expression. It writes the kind of ideas that ECDs knock back because they’re just “missing something”. So let’s use it that way. To kick off a brainstorm. To get to “the idea before the idea”. Fast research for manifestos, straplines, headlines & scripts. It’s a great way to simplify and/or speed up certain processes that have needed reinventing for years. But ChatGPT won’t replace creatives. It doesn’t get goosebumps. It has no hair on the back of its neck to stand up when the energy changes in the room. It’s never felt that rush of adrenaline when it smashes one out of the park.

Tim Clegg, Executive Creative Director, Digitas UK

We in the creative community have long thought AI could never replace human ingenuity and craft. But systems like ChatGPT and Dall.E have knocked our collective apathy for six. And rightly so. They will undoubtedly shake things up.

It was when our creative tech guru showed me a children’s book he’d had written and illustrated in under a minute that the penny dropped for me. Sam isn’t a writer or an illustrator, but in his coffee break he had become both. Sure, it wasn’t Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. But that misses the point. The process may be different but it’s still one that rewards creativity. In the hands of someone with fresh ideas and an appreciation of craft, AI can be a game-changer.

If you’re in the business of knocking out functional copy for undemanding clients, then this could be a threat. But creatives like Sam, who’ll help define creativity over the next decade, are already asking themselves the more important question: ‘how can I use this to be more creative?’. And what could be more human than that?


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