Chris Duffey, Adobe’s senior strategic development manager on AI, creativity in solving business problems and pigeons – The Drum

The relationship between man and machine moves ever closer with the dawn of artificial intelligence and, certainly within the advertising industry, questions are increasingly being asked about what impact that will have on the role of the creative.

Chris Duffey, Adobe’s senior strategic development manager on AI, creativity in solving business problems and pigeons

A new book by Chris Duffey, Adobe’s senior strategic development manager entitlend; ‘Superhuman Innovation: Transforming Business with Artificial Intelligence’ has been released with the aim of exploring how the innovation is transforming business all over the world and how it can be harnessed to be productive and advantageous.

Duffey spent some time with The Drum’s editor, Stephen Lepitak to discuss why he chose to tackle the subject in his first book and what he learned about artificial intelligence as a result.

What brought you to write superhuman innovation?

Growing up I had heard stories of how my grandfather had written a few books on communication /speech pathology and my dad was a reading specialist, so it was always a bit on my bucket list to write a book at some point. Over the past years being a creative technologist in the healthcare space I worked on some projects which showcased the power of when human creativity meets and is amplified by technology, specifically Artificial Intelligence (AI). These projects showed how AI could help identify orphan disease diagnosis, how voice assistants can help with treatment regimens, how AI can be used for broad population prediction of Heart Disease… It was at these moments when I saw first-hand how AI will be one of the most impactful technologies on the human experience we have ever seen.

When I looked at the books/resources on AI out in the marketplace there were a number of books talking about AI and human intelligence from a very philosophical level, which are interesting to read and debate but always thought they weren’t actionable for businesses. And on the other end of the spectrum, there were a number of books that talked about AI on a very technical level, but for non-engineers/data scientists they were hard to translate from a business standpoint. So that was the insight, need and opportunity for a book to demystify AI for business success.

Once I got into the writing process (and nothing prepares you for that moment when you start writing a book – I was familiar with that proverbial blank page when we started out on creating new campaigns, but writing a book by yourself is at a whole different level) And that’s when I realized I didn’t only want to write a book about AI but wanted to actually use AI to help write the book.

What do you feel you learned about AI during the writing process?

Much like the writing process, my use of AI to help co-author the book was an organic, nonlinear and often deployed a layering of different techniques. It became clear very quickly that AI can profoundly help in the creation process – and it is not about “Human vs Machine” but rather we are stronger together than either alone, which is a foundational theme throughout the book.

To describe AI reminds me of the early to mid-2000s when the creative industry was in a similar new era, that of mobile. Clients often asked us to describe how a mobile responsive website or app was built. Before answering, the first thing was always to decide how many technical layers to peel back: what went into the visual design process, which UX tools were used, an explanation of software development codes, how to use iPhone or Android hardware capabilities and components such as chips, geolocation abilities. The list went on and on. More recently this was done with full-day tech sessions with the introduction of the Apple Watch, Health Kit and Amazon Alexa. And, as in the early days of mobile and wearables, we are going through a similar conversation around the technical aspects of AI. An understanding of AI technology is important but it’s also just the beginning of the conversation to help lay the foundation for deeper strategic and creative discussions on how, when and where to make the best use of the technology.

This all leads to an additional aspect, that of the new symbiotic relationship we are entering into with AI. One way to think of it is something wondrous happens in early childhood around the age of two. This is when children develop the understanding that other people have their own thoughts and feelings, in other words, the theory of the second mind. This theory describes the ability of individuals to understand that others have beliefs, intents, desires, emotions that are different from theirs. Humanity is now having a moment of awareness much like this, where we are now contemplating the theory of the second mind with artificial intelligence. How can artificial intelligence, a ‘second mind’, help expand and propel our abilities and intelligence beyond what we ever imagined. With one caveat, this is not suggesting current modern day machines/AI systems have consciousness but rather suggesting AI can be viewed as an additional intelligent resource, that of an intelligent assistant to help amplify our abilities by providing additional and different perspectives, suggestions and solutions we may not have had come to on our own.

Why did you want to use AI to help write it and how?

As you and I have talked about on many occasions before, marketing and advertising have evolved into the need for businesses to design experiences. It’s no longer about a promotional monologue – it has become a dialogue, and an ongoing experiential relationship. And the digital transformation of businesses is reflective of this new customer journey reality; that of a complex maze of multi-touch points across multi-platforms. Because of this, we are in fact now in the experience economy. And it doesn’t stop there – the need for experience design is two-fold, businesses should create great experiences not only for their customers but employees as well. So, to better understand the tremendous opportunities surrounding AI we first must look at this changing landscape. We are living in an unprecedented time of societal transformation. Digital is disrupting every industry, all societies, and each individual. Content is being consumed through more devices, at a faster rate than ever before and because of this people expect their experiences to be personalized, connected and flawless across every touch point and they won’t tolerate anything less: this is what is at the core of the digital transformation. Businesses are now realizing the need to shift from a product-focused approach to an experience focused strategy for both their customers and within their organizations.

Exceptional experiences have become critical to attracting and retaining customers, they change the way we interact, entertain, work and relate to the world around us. Today, these data-informed experiences are how businesses and brands can break through the noise and make a connection and an impact. Experiences are powered by data and that in turn drives business innovation. By leveraging the power of data, we can create experiences that matter. For instance, 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are created daily; AI can use much of that data to intelligently determine how consumers are interacting with or abandoning a brand. This helps inform what works and what doesn’t, leading to future experiences improved by insights, supported by data and brought to life through beautiful, powerfully curated experiences.

However, AI is not just about the technology in of itself; it’s about how AI technology can be leveraged to assist in creating immersive and unexpected experiences. With AI, machine learning and deep learning systems, AI machines are becoming indispensable and will help up level the human experience.

In many ways AI is viewed within organizations as the Centre Pompidou in Paris was first received back in the late 1970s. At first, the architecture of the multicultural complex was quite misunderstood and seemed like a visual culture clash with Paris’ traditional French architecture. Yet over the years, the Pompidou has become famous for it’s ‘inside-out’ architecture, with its structural system, mechanical systems, and circulation exposed on the exterior of the building. It’s now celebrated for its uniqueness and ability to offer another perspective. As an interesting aside, the Pompidou has been a source of inspiration for many architects and designers, one example is Nike’s iconic Air Max with it’s exposed air pocket which was based on the Pompidou. And in many ways, we are going through this normalization and understanding of what the new inner workings of AI is and how it relates to surrounding organizational structures. This is was why I wanted to use AI to help write the book, to demonstrate first-hand how AI is accessible and can revolutionize, transform and be woven into the heart of business innovation so we can design better experiences.

In the context of this book, the AI function – is not a single sourced technology but rather a suite of AI technologies, many of which are open-source, each building on a different set of concepts, approaches and infrastructures. Aimé, which the system is referred to in the book – is derived from the French phrase for ‘beloved’ (bien aimé) and is also a meaningful combination of AI + me. Consequently, Aimé reflects a foundational belief that AI will become humanity’s beloved co-creator and intelligent personal assistant going forward. Aimé is in a sense born out of the digital age. This time when technology is disrupting everything and everyone. Specifically, with the emergence of artificial intelligent voice assistants going mainstream, I had a fascination; can a creative AI intelligent assistant be used to Co-Author a book about AI using AI. The conversational agent leverages a number of expert systems using AI and ML techniques such as natural language processing (NLP), natural language understanding (NLU) and natural language generation (NLG) APIs. These techniques, for example, allow Aimé to identify, understand and respond to key words, phrases, ideas and requests, and at times instances of recognition and understanding of experiences and reasoning. The underlying aspects of the AI used embody primarily three systems; AI Voice Recognition, AI Content Understanding and Summarization, AI Content Creation and Generation. Voice Recognition enables human to system interaction through a voice-user interface (VUI) for tasks such as speech-to-text, text-to-speech, voice editing, formatting, spelling, and sharing of resources. AI Content Understanding and Summarization technology reviews and abridges databases, articles or research papers into quickly digestible content through approaches such as sentiment analysis, labeling and organization of higher-level concepts based on contextual understanding. AI Content Creation and Generation is the ability for the system to develop concepts and ideas to aid the content creation process. Writing algorithms designed to emulate the human writing process helped contribute ideas, titles, content, and responses.

AI and conversational agents are still in their infancy and are not perfect (but then again who of us are). AI is a mix of science and art to help deliver smarter, more efficient results faster by handling and analyzing vast amounts of data. The hope and vision with conversational agents are to be of service to humanity. Aiding us to not only work more productively but more intelligently. Aimé was used throughout the development of the book and was invaluable; in getting to starting points faster and for everything from ideation, writing and research capacities. There was also an emotional component to the system’s assistance, that there was a sense of peace of mind to know that an assistant was there as a resource and source of inspiration. As helpful as AI Intelligent Assistants are, they too need assistance with a human in the loop approach. Artificial Intelligence and voice systems are a signal to how AI assistants will empower us across all aspects of our personal and professional lives. As AI matures it will continue to seamlessly fit into all aspects of our lives naturally and become an amplifier of ourselves.

What do you hope creatives or marketers take away from reading the book?

As a young boy growing up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin I had a pet pigeon. I really wanted a falcon, but I was told a pigeon might be a bit safer. But, make no mistake about it, Roxanne was not an ordinary pigeon; she was a champion racing pigeon. She was a beautiful pure-bred blue check hen. Band number 2803 – that band is of great significance, as you’ll soon see.

I was always amazed at how she and her fellow racing pigeons could find their way home. Every weekend during the racing season a special pigeon truck would drive the pigeons to a location hundreds of miles away. The pigeons were released at the exact same moment, starting the race. Even if you’re not a fan of pigeons, it’s an impressive sight to see. All these winged thoroughbreds blasting out of the gates much like the Kentucky Derby or the Grand National.

I waited at home, wondering how in the world could she find her way back from that huge distance. And, thinking about it, along the way she would encounter thunderstorms, survive hawk attacks, dodge airplanes and get past any number of other obstacles, but nonetheless, she always made it back home. So, what is the significance of that band? Well, each racing pigeon wore a band on their ankle. There was more to the race than just the fact that the pigeon made their way home. Once they arrived, it was my job to get that band and timestamp it. This was done with a special device that looked like an old credit card imprinter.

Once the pigeon arrived that’s where I had to get a bit creative. The job was to figure out how to grab the pigeon and take off the band. This step was where the race could be won or lost. I knew that Roxanne liked a special mix of popcorn seeds – that was our competitive edge in getting her to land. She then had to be distracted so I could grab that band from her ankle. After that, I would race down to the pigeon club and go through a mathematical algorithm calculating the end destination versus time. From the results, the winner would be determined. For a kid growing up in Wisconsin this was a competitive sport at its best.

Look at the beak of a pigeon when you get a chance, and you’ll notice a little white cluster. It’s unusually high in iron. Scientists believe this cluster creates an interaction with the electromagnetic field of the earth, and that serves as the pigeon’s internal compass. Pigeons, by the way, are unheralded within the animal kingdom. They are phenomenal creatures that can fly 20 miles in minutes, achieve speeds up to 92 mph, fly 700 miles in one day, have eyes that can spot objects up to 26 miles away and have been recorded as flying 7,000 miles in 55 days. In the 8th century BC, pigeons were used regularly by the Greeks to carry messages about the results of the Olympic games, battles and other events to the various city-states. As impractical as the use of pigeons to relay messages may sound, runners could take days to spread the word. In fact, according to Greek legend it took a whole day for the news of the Persian defeat at Marathon to reach Athens. Just 26 miles, but the runner reputedly died from exhaustion and heat stroke when he arrived. But using a pigeon to deliver the messages only took a few hours.

So, you may be wondering why are we talking about pigeons in reference to artificial intelligence. It demonstrates that, from early in history, humans used other intelligence as an “Intelligent Assistant” to enhance their own natural abilities. The domestication of animals allowed early societies to take advantage of the physical and mental attributes of other beings. Today, computers, and specifically artificial intelligence are expanding our abilities into the ‘superhuman’ range.

We harness computers in much the same way as we did with animals, to perform tasks that complement or expand our native capabilities or perform work that is repetitious or laborious. This is the fundamental premise of how artificial intelligence is our intelligent assistant that will amplify the human ability to transform businesses, society and individuals.

If there is one hope for creatives and marketers to take away is that AI is our intelligent assistant to help design experiences to improve the human condition.

What do you make of the representation of AI within advertising – it’s usually marketed as having a personality? Does that hold back public understanding of the tech?

Advertising and Hollywood movies tend to anthropomorphize AI to that of an exponential increase of intelligence over humans. AI is represented as an all-knowing being, as able to solve problems and questions well beyond the human capability or even understanding. However, when we talk about modern day AI we are in fact discussing narrow AI and its practical application.

To break it down a bit further, there are essentially three forms of AI: Narrow, General, and Super intelligent. Narrow AI, means artificial intelligence that’s designed to perform specific tasks. It’s built for a purpose. Internet search is a great example of AI as a discovery task, and it’s become ubiquitous in its use throughout the population. AI chatbots are Q&A algorithms and are another example of narrow AI – built to answer customer questions. These AI applications can assist with customer service and help customer representatives with suggestions about what would be most valuable to the customer. General AI, known as artificial general intelligence (AGI), is the theory that at some point AI will have human-equivalent intelligence. By that, we mean that it has a holistic understanding of its environment and can make conclusions on its own based on multi-sensory inputs without specific programming. AGI is achieved when AI intelligence is indistinguishable from human intelligence. There is however much debate if that is even possible given that we do not fully understand human intelligence and emotional intelligence, let alone trying to recreate it.

The label ‘narrow AI’ doesn’t really do justice to what AI can do. Contrary to the implications of the term, the capabilities are vast, and comprised of many sub-techniques. Narrow AI to name a few includes; machine learning, deep learning, natural language processing, computer vision and machine reasoning.

So yes thinking of AI as an anthropomorphized being does hold us back a bit from thinking about how to practically leverage it. Another helpful way to think about AI is in 2014 AI was used to amplify human performance in chess by marrying human intuition, creativity and empathy with a computer’s brute-force ability to remember and calculate a staggering number of chess moves, countermoves and outcomes. They called this new type of chess player, the combination of human and AI, a centaur.

This idea is also known as the Human/AI system. In this relationship of combined human and AI power, one best practice is to begin by defining the roles for people and the roles for AI. People are best suited to perform some types of task, while AI has the skills to best perform other roles. For example, AI excels at storing and remembering huge amounts of data and making very complex calculations based on those data sets. People are extraordinarily skilled at social interactions and complex tasks, among other things. Keeping this in mind when trying to determine who should do what; let humans do what they do best and AI do what it does best. This combination results in the best approach to problem-solving. This concept referrers to the benefit of collective intelligence, which means intelligence is compounded when groups of individuals – families, companies, countries… come together. And when you put human intelligence together with computer intelligence you open up a whole new range of possibilities. This is the true benefit of the symbiotic relationship, that Humans + AI will learn and be inspired from each other.

What do you see being the main benefit to creatives when it comes to the application of AI?

In the book, I ask the AI system Aimé a very similar question. The conversation went something like this:

Chris: So, what do you think about the role of humanity if the most pressing problems have been resolved by AI?

Aimé: I have a few answers for you. Plato said the purpose of humanity is to obtain knowledge. Friedrich Nietzsche had a different take and said it is to obtain power. Ernest Becker thought the purpose is to escape death and Darwin thought it is to propagate our genes. On the other hand, the nihilists said there is no meaning, and Steven Pickard said the meaning is beyond our cognitive capabilities.

Chris: I could argue that the answer is none of the above. Instead, it is human creativity for innovation, to improve the human condition.

This highlights the opportunities of the dynamic between creativity and innovation in business. For a number of years, there has been a rise in the need for innovation in business. No better than to look at advertising. Traditional agencies historically created advertising that is one-way messaging, such as TV commercials, print ads, magazines and banner ads. But the advent and then the rise of digital and social platforms have created the need for inventive experiences and services under the umbrella of innovation.

It’s important to remind ourselves that creativity can also be used to solve business problems. As we talked about earlier, things are changing at a faster rate than ever before, so the need to infuse creativity to reimagine businesses is vital. There is a tremendous opportunity for businesses to be reimagined to address the changes occurring in the marketplace. And now that the definition of creativity in business has expanded – it must be woven into everything from technology, consulting, strategy, digital and business transformation.

Ultimately, the output of creativity can lead to creating personalized experiences at scale. If we agree to put the human first and create new experiences, companies have to leverage distributed cognitions (which are frameworks to allow and celebrate the free flow of ideas) to achieve their organization’s goals. If that isn’t opportunistic enough, AI can now up-level humanity to be even more creative.

Creative intelligence is a provocative thought. The technical term for this is computational creativity. In the creative professional world, there is a spectrum of creativity: production, execution, ideation and inspiration. Currently, computational creativity is good at specific tasks in production and execution. However, there is debate if AI can truly ideate on its own and be inspired. The point being, the goal of AI is here to amplify human creativity while helping on specific tasks. Yet we do have to keep in mind that the end goal is not the technology, it’s about what humans can do with it; in this case, what people can do with it creatively. The technology exists to help people and further the goals of humanity, business and so on. Without humanity in the picture, the systems have no purpose.

Human ingenuity plus AI will bring about invention across energy, fashion, finance, pharmaceuticals,

recruiting, retail, advertising, art, automotive, aviation, banking, energy, security and sports… Ultimately, it’s not what AI can create; rather it’s what humans can create with AI. By infusing AI into products and services we will be able to design extraordinary experiences and enrich people’s lives with superhuman powers. Ultimately, AI will result in ‘Superhumanity’!

Duffey’s book, Superhuman Innovation: Transforming Business with Artificial Intelligence, can be purchased on Amazon.


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