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Governments, regulators and trade bodies will need to work with AI. But how far can it go in advertising process and creativity?


Nothing has got the community — and particularly its self-styled expert gurus — as exercised as widely and quickly as Artificial Intelligence.

It has all the right ingredients — potential step change, wide-ranging impacts for many sectors, potentially befuddling propositions for marketers — but with the added promise of earlier and wider adoption through its sheer accessibility.

Thus AI offers a broad platform for those opportunists who would seek to reinvent themselves (yet again), this time as the ones to guide marketers through this sea of darkness…

AI has greater and more practical spread than other previous contender technologies.

Contrast briefly with Second Life, a clunky game-like virtual world launched two decades ago where everybody looked for a fast buck and/or sex. Or Blockchain — useful but too B2B and techy. Or VR/AR, sometimes impressive but too often a bit “so what” or “did it because it was there”.

Some claim it will transform our business processes, some leadership, some everything.

Yet much simple automation is now being dressed up in the emperor’s new clothes. Not only does labelling it AI sound sexier and more current, but it distracts from automation’s surprisingly slow progress through our increasingly process-led industry.

Expect all the crooks and bad actors already active in online advertising — about which we continue to do little — to be very active indeed in the new spaces.

Many I speak to — interestingly of all ages and across many fields of work — have tinkered with AI, usually through the gateway of ChatGPT.  (For experiment, it generated a para in my last but one opinion piece).

Most have been impressed and returned. Some have figured that it gets better every time they iterate and refine their questions — rather like pressing a point in a person-to-person conversation, you might say.

Microsoft doesn’t grab the headlines so often these days but has seized significant advantage for its otherwise also-ran Bing search engine in partnering with Chat GPT.

Meanwhile Google is reported to be experiencing problems integrating its AI engine, Bard.

Nevertheless, AI promises the next step change in search and the battle for dominance there will surely be one of the big power struggles of our time.

But there are many huge and real worries.

How far can AI go?

The big one is what happens as AI continues to learn exponentially and, some argue, inevitably develops some kind of what we call consciousness.

That Rubicon crossed, it’s a straightforward leap to learning how to create objects or linkages which enable it to escape the virtual world and assume some kind of physical power.

And then to controlling humans to do the rest for it. Simpler than you might think if it controls information, as any propagandist dictator could aver.

Miles of column inches have already been given over to this (most presumably written by humans for now) such as the Wall Street Journal and Time.

Governments, especially western-minded ones, are really beginning to worry about China’s rise and massive aspirations in tech.  This weaves into clear and present concerns ranging from the security and independence of TikTok to Taiwan, the world’s leading producer of chips.

Apocalyptic thoughts aside, for now, AI’s a bit like someone who knows a bit about a lot but doesn’t venture an opinion on much.  More arch-plagiarist than leader or inventor.

The Times tells us that loners, not networks, drive innovation while the wonderful Tom Goodwin observes that AI stands for “Average of the Internet”.  Epoch’s Alex Murrell agrees.

It’s already generated legion reports in business and fooled academic examiners.  As mental arithmetic was rendered obsolete by calculators (and cemented by their inclusion in phones), so it could be with most routine writing skills.

Companies are now rushing to retrofit rules that forbid staff from divulging privileged information to AI engines.

But spare a thought for content creators, be they advertising creatives, writers, journalists, musicians or film creators.

The latter excepted, it is now possible to create to professional content from anywhere. (As the gaming industry shows, it’s still damn difficult — possible but expensive — to synthesise credible audiovisual content).

Deepfakes will finally become widespread. It’s posited that AI will make many jobs redundant (but they also said that about computers…).

An aside — but a relevant one as it’s the dominant form of human internet traffic — AI will transform porn.

Weaned on Instagram and TikTok filters, who wants to see flawed humans when they can ogle perfect, buff, voluptuous, gamine, obedient, dish-eyed, ripped, whatever simulacra instead? Imagine when they can animate credibly — the money is there so it won’t be long ….

What about IP?

Apart from serious attendant self-worth and self-esteem issues, AI also raises huge and hitherto insufficiently aired concerns around intellectual property rights, on which first world commerce pivots and hinges.

The early signs from the US, which in tech usually sets the pace for the rest of the world to follow (hence the scandalously low threshold of what constitutes an advertising impression online) aren’t promising.  It seems they’re inclining towards an anything-goes model where no IP rules apply to AI-generated materials.

Across history, originality has been dwarfed by plagiarism. So what hope for all the true creators whose work stands to be “adapted” by tech with subsequent loss of IP control?

Clue — right now, none whatsoever.

Who will make the money instead? Why, tech, the very people who brought you “hey, we’re just a platform”.

Prosecution of IP infringements is notoriously tricky, cases are relatively few and tend to be confined to instances where the stakes merit it e.g. expensive TV commercials, Hollywood movies, bestselling books or hit pop songs or games.

As AI rolls out and pervades as I believe it will, Governments and their regulators and trade bodies will tilt into it.

Our IPA is already well-placed as it has embodied in-house legal resource and successfully advised and assisted its members on related matters for years.

Advertiser bodies WFA and ISBA will doubtless be wise to follow as it’s the marketers as funders and paymasters who will ultimately be at jeopardy, and jeopardy there will be in abundance.

Progress, eh?

Bob Wootton spent 40 years working in advertising, first as a media buyer at some of the UK’s leading agencies  before joining the trade body ISBA in 1996, where he was advertising and media director for 20 years. He is also the founder of Deconstruction, a media and tech consulting business, and presents The Guitar Show on YouTube.

Hugo Drayton, Director, Future plc, on 27 Apr 2023
“Excellent overview, Bob. Balanced & thoughtful, as ever. As we heard from John Hegarty on Tuesday, I believe the (human) creatives will prosper, while research/repetitive roles will disappear.”

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