The Drum Awards Festival - Official Deadline

-d -h -min -sec

Digital Transformation Artificial Intelligence #Technology

History teaches us not to fear AI

By Will Tunstall, Co-founder and chief design officer



The Drum Network article

This content is produced by The Drum Network, a paid-for membership club for CEOs and their agencies who want to share their expertise and grow their business.

Find out more

April 17, 2024 | 8 min read

Could AI have formed the Sex Pistols? No, says Will Tunstall of Tommy, and tech doomsayers overlook that this new advancement contains untold opportunities.

A multicolored wooden abacus against a white background

New technologies have inspired naysayers since abacus manufacturers bemoaned the advent of the calculators, says Will Tunstall / Crissy Jarvis via Unsplash

There’s a lot of fear mongering and naysaying about the rise of the machines and their ability to do all our jobs better and faster than we can within, well, most industries right now.

Barring a few notable exceptions, such as maybe hairdressers, small independent bakeries, and the odd rare-breeds animal sanctuary, there seems to be an overwhelming sense of dread that AI will put us all out to pasture.

While I’m sure there may be some truth in this, the idea that clever machines can process and therefore complete certain tasks quicker, and more accurately than humans is not a new one. It’s the very same argument the abacus-makers famously made when the calculator first became popularized. Which in turn, was the argument those very same calculator-makers raised when someone decided to stick one in a phone.

Technology advances, and if it makes things easier or quicker, changes tends to stick around.

A return to the abacus?

Concern here, though, seems to be around the idea that AI looks set to replace roles people have worked and trained hard for. This isn’t the slow decline of an aging industry that has had writing on the wall for some time. Instead, it feels like the robots are muscling in on our turf. All of a sudden, and somewhat uninvited.

The jury is still out of course, on whether these long-term efficiencies, and the resulting perceived devaluing of skills, will result in… well, results. Impressions might be nice, but we must focus on distinctiveness as defined by neuroscience – the constant need not just to stand out, but to provide rewards in exchange for attention. Only then do you drive memorability and stay front of mind.

With all these advances in automation and efficiency, are we all running headlong into a bland, homogenized future? One where everything looks and sounds the same because it is all based on the looks and sounds of things that have gone before? Quite possibly.

But we’re unlikely to realize this for a few years yet. Maybe Gen-Delta (speculatively slated to begin in the 2070s) will have some kind of (Aldous) Huxlean awakening and spearhead a return to the heady times of brave individualism and handmade wooden abacii.

Or perhaps, we just need to look at this a different way. With slightly less isolationism.

The lessons of history

I always remember at school, my history teacher framing the Second World War in a way I hadn’t considered before and in which I've rarely seen it posed since. He discussed its impact in terms of how much potential was lost. How many scientists would have gone on to save millions with discoveries that never happened? How many philosophers might have brought people together with ideas that were never formed? How many musicians might have written melodies that now will never be heard? Or how many inspiring leaders might have taken us into a future without conflict?

I see parallels with the way our industry has developed over the years. Most people, be they creatives, designers, planners, strategists, have come through some kind of formal education. Once they’ve paid for that education, they will likely need access to expensive computers, tools, software, further training, a move to a big city, and so on and so forth.

What if this wave of AI advancement opens the doors to millions of people all over the world who otherwise wouldn’t have a hope of accessing such skills? What if an 18-year-old design / film / architecture / any-other-creative-discipline student who cannot afford to attend university, or to live in the city or to buy the software, still gets to join the industry with the aid of AI-enhanced tools and training?

What if a child, living without clean drinking water, uses publicly available AI tools to design a solution that delivers running water to his community? What if an elderly person who physically cannot type is able to write a book that will still be celebrated in a hundred years?

That potential is something to be celebrated.

Suggested newsletters for you

Daily Briefing


Catch up on the most important stories of the day, curated by our editorial team.

Ads of the Week


See the best ads of the last week - all in one place.

The Drum Insider

Once a month

Learn how to pitch to our editors and get published on The Drum.

Not everyone is a great photographer

I can see a time once the hype has settled down, and we all see whether AI is truly capable at a practical, day-to-day level, where we realize that the control still remains with the humans. Just because everyone has a camera on their phone, doesn’t mean everyone takes great photos. That still requires skill, experience and above all, taste.

By its very nature AI is feeding itself. This is great for sifting through reams of factual data but when it comes to good taste, its idea of fashion, art, music, movies, writing, is totally aligned with ours. It doesn’t think they’re good because it’s decided that, it knows they’re good because we’ve told it.

Would AI have come up with Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren’s vision for the Sex Pistols? Would it have looked at the world they inhabited and consciously understood the nuances enough to be able to boldly go against the tide?

Would it have come up with rock'n'roll as the antithesis of everything kids were exposed to at the time, thus playing a major part in the development of youth culture as we know it today?

I’m sure it would have thrown out a load of possible options for both those scenarios but it would still have required the humans to pick the ones that really stirred things up. The ones that truly made people feel something. The ones that changed the world.

The rise of the machines, for all the scary overtones, is also a story of opportunity. The chance for those that would not have the means or ability to change the world, to have a voice. And surely we’ll all be the better for that.

Digital Transformation Artificial Intelligence #Technology

Content by The Drum Network member:


Tommy are a Global Creative & Production Studio who stand out in the sea of sameness to deliver work that is truly distinctive. Ideas that are different. New. Evoke...

Find out more

More from Digital Transformation

View all


Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +