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Artificial Intelligence Technology

With AI, history doesn’t repeat, it rhymes


By Alex Schultz, Chief Marketing Officer and VP of Analytics

June 12, 2024 | 5 min read

Alex Schultz, chief marketing officer and VP of Analytics at Meta, says lessons from the past can hint at how AI will take creativity forward.

A colorful scene

/ Photo by Jr Korpa on Unsplash

Each time a new technology comes along, we seem to ride hype cycles and doom cycles about its impact and peaks of inflated expectations and troughs of disillusionment about its potential. In the end, we get to a normalized position where we leverage it and find our lives enriched and enhanced.

In creativity, perhaps the most classic example is photography and how Paul Delaroche (a great portrait artist) said in 1840, “From today painting is dead,” and yet almost 200 years on, painting is alive and well. There are strong arguments that photography itself changed painting, inspired a new understanding of art and, in time, it certainly became a full art form. A quick search finds many modern-day Delaroches talking about how AI is ruining creativity and art, and this is an active part of the conversation in the creative industries today.

Shortly before Delaroche proclaimed painting was dead, Louis Daguerre (one of the pioneers of photography) stated: “The discovery I announce to the public is one of the small number which, by their principles, their results, and the beneficial influence which they exert upon the arts, are counted among the most useful and extraordinary inventions.” Those who created photography thought it would change the world (including art) for the better, democratize images, reduce falsehoods, increase truth and improve art. Yet there, too, we know that a telephoto lens can make it look like people are violating social distancing when they are adhering to it, and what is in frame always hides what is out of frame.

History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme. It’s part of the human condition to resist change in an aim to protect the world we have created, a world that feels familiar and safe. It is part of the journey of a technology pioneer to evangelize the product they believe in and overhype its positivity and potential. The latest advancements in AI technology are no different.

The marketing industry has been through this before: the advent of ads, then print ads, then radio ads, TV, the internet, search, social media, mobile and now AI. With each wave, the evangelists proclaim the future is golden, and the naysayers decry the death of a glorious past. I believe we’re at that crossroads again today with AI.

AI is being used to generate images to create more ad versions. Each person can now get a more personalized ad, and companies that couldn’t afford great creative can now have access to better options. We use AI to surface ads that are most relevant to you, and businesses can connect with customers in better ways with more opportunities on the horizon. If we focus on the momentum and direction of travel, not just the present moment.

So, how should we shape our response to this exciting technology? There are two key questions we should each ask:

1. What will progress look like over the next 20 years?

2. How do you want to respond to that?

Gartner Hype Cycle

It feels to me we are near the peak of inflated expectations. I remember about a decade ago when we discussed how self-driving cars would render all driving jobs obsolete and then the trough of disillusionment that followed, yet today, I regularly ride in San Francisco in a completely autonomous Waymo. I doubt we’ll hit the same level of trough in AI, but history says this hype cannot continue.

To ride out these waves, it is important to look at the 20-year journey and prepare yourself for that future. You should do your own work, but the best people I know make me feel this is like semiconductor chips and Moore’s law. We know the next couple of breakthroughs we will benefit from (mostly around scaling and capabilities), but the third or fourth breakthrough from now is fundamental science. There is a lot of promising research, but no one truly knows which exploration will come through. They are confident, though, that we will have more breakthroughs.

Then, the question for each person individually is how to respond. Do they want to be more of a Delaroche or a Daguerre? A luddite or a technophile? It won’t shock you to know that I feel my response is to believe the technology will work and will be mostly positive. Marketing will change, creativity will change, just as they always have through history. The best chance to make that change positive for you, your clients and the world is to be part of that change. So, I hope you’ll join me in taking a long view and engaging with the latest technology revolution with a healthy dose of skepticism about the hype and an eye to history.

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