SXSW Takeaways: AI Will Allow for More Creativity, Not Less

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This year at SXSW, Artificial Intelligence was predictably a recurring theme. There were dozens of panels on the subject of AI and its infinite applications. The technology is infiltrating every industry so quickly, one can’t help but feel we are on the verge of a fundamental shift, akin to the Web 2.0 revolution, or even the rise of the Internet itself.

Despite all the hype, one dark narrative has haunted discussions of AI for the last few years—that somehow it’s rise will be accompanied by a suffocation of creativity. This fear, I suspect, stems from the assumption that the computing power of AI will somehow displace the “human touch.” Put another way, that society’s creative minds will be subordinated to the raw analysis of cold, calculating machines.

But this year’s discussion on AI at SXSW affirms the position that nothing could be further from the truth. Engineers across the industry are working specifically on creativity for thinking machines. In fact, one need not go that far into a sci-fi future to see how the expansion of AI is allowing for an even broader palette for design and creativity.

Alongside the great number of AI discussions, we saw the arrival of retail at SXSW like never before.  Like so many industries before it, retail is undergoing seismic changes that are at work at every level of the commercial experience. From design to manufacturing to inventory management to distribution to marketing to retail to customer care, and everywhere in between, AI applications are being used to mitigate large-scale disruption. These exciting developments are not displacing workers in these sectors, but rather empowering them with new data, allowing them to make better business decisions. At SXSW we learned about virtual styling assistants available for in-store use. The festival’s Retail Innovation Lounge hosted experiences from many brands who are leveraging AI. Savitude, also representing at SXSW, uses AI to recommend clothing based on a shopper’s body shape.

Many of these applications are allowing makers, creatives, and artists to augment their creativity with the kind of data-driven insights that only AI can provide. The algorithms that power AI are tools for human creativity. They give rise to data that can spot trends before they start, and predict what kinds of creative choices that most people will respond to. We can begin to think of AI as an extension of our human creative intelligence, which expands the potential of our creativity beyond the limits of a single brain, which is limited to one worldview, and brings with it a lifetime’s buildup of limiting biases. This kind of machine thinking won’t hamstring creatives. Rather, by merging AI with that which is uniquely human—new possibilities and new horizons of creativity become accessible.

Leader, Digital Marketing Services, IBM iX || Editor-in-Chief, thinkLeaders

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