I was recently lucky enough to escape the Melbourne Winter and head to Sydney for Vivid Ideas 2017. On top of some incredible light shows and witnessing one of the best live performances I’ve ever seen from French music duo, Air, I had the opportunity to attend a number of thought-provoking events as part of Vivid Ideas. Here are the top three events I went along to:

Marketing to the Machines: Why Algorithms Will Define the Future of Everything

Humans will be replaced by algorithms. It’s not a new thought, but one which will define the future of marketing. Algorithms already play an extremely significant role in our lives. In their sold-out presentation, Suzie Shaw and Simon Kemp from We Are Social said that “they influence who we talk to, what we own, where we go, how much we earn and even who we marry”.

As our dependence on technology increases, so too does our dependence on algorithms. According to Shaw and Kemp, this as the reason why algorithms are the new marketing. For them, algorithms become most disruptive to marketing when looked in the context of voice controlled devices, such as Amazon Alexa. These devices not only have the power to alter speech and natural behaviour, but they redefine how customers interact with brands. As interaction with these devices is invisible, we will shop in terms of needs and categories, not brands. Before delving into what marketers can do to overcome this challenge, the presenters deep dived into what has become expected in talks of this nature – the singularity, weaponisation and empathy of artificial intelligence. Rather than being fearful, they reinforced being mindful of the elements when using it in marketing practice.

So what can markets do to get ahead in this algorithm laden world? According to Kemp, the first thing is to understand where you stand, in relation to the “Four Horsemen” (Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple) and to issues of privacy. The second point, and the one which summarised the premise of the talk, was the understand your adversary. In this, Shaw and Kemp attributed algorithms to be “more predictable than customer behaviour”. The last point was simple but effective – get started today.

While the topic of the power of algorithms in our lives and its influence on marketing is nothing new, the talk reconfirmed the need for marketers to not be fearful of technological advances and to embrace change in a way that works for them.

Rhodes Art Walk

Not coming from Sydney, I wasn’t aware of the suburb of Rhodes – and of the hour long train ride from the CBD to get there. The suburb is serving as an innovation hub during Vivid Ideas, hosting a huge program of masterclasses, workshops, activities and talks that focus on 3D printing, robotics and wearable art and tech.

On Tuesday afternoon, I trekked down to Rhodes for a guided Art Walk tour of the area. In a small group of 10 people, we were taken around the peninsula, waking past over 10 contemporary commissioned works and told of the artists practice and development in the area.

Hosted by Sophia De Mestre from Culture Scouts, a cultural walking tour company, alongside Rhodes town counsellors, we were told of how art played an integral role in town development. Once overrun with factories, Rhodes was recently redeveloped into premier suburb, boasting state of the art buildings and facilities in a beautiful waterfront location. As a revived suburb, Rhodes was fortunate in that it could work with town planners to incorporate art and technology as part of the foundation for the suburb. Communal parks featured highly durable table tennis tables painted by renowned artist Mulga the Artist, and would be eye-sore water tanks were disguised by jig-saw like, graffiti-proof art by local artist, Emma Anna. For what is usually taken for granted in the area, all of these pieces played a role in developing a narrative for the suburb.

What was most impressive of the area was The Learning Space at The Connection, a state-of-the-art community facility. The facility features a digital art gallery, pay-per-use 3D printers and thoughtfully designed shared-working spaces.

In attending this walk I didn’t know what to expect, but it was very exciting and rare to see an entire suburb placing such great significance on art and technology. This walk also offered valuable insights on the role of space and community in the lives of individuals and families, and the need to put well-thought out and meaningful plans in place when developing areas. Most importantly, it showed how you can find creativity woven into places you don’t expect.

Human & Machine: The Next Great Creative Partnership

The last session of the week was hosted by our very own Dave King. Organised on behalf of his creative AI company, Move37, the panel explored the role of artificial intelligence in the creative process.

Artificial intelligence has embedded itself in every industry across the globe. The creative industry is no different. The creative partnership of human and machine, according to Dave, has endless possibilities to enrich the way we work, think and create. 

The computer acting as a creative partner is nothing new. From a study in 2005 shared by Dave, there are 4 roles of computation partners – the nanny, the pen pal, the coach and the colleague. However, far too often, the computer serves an additional role in the creative partnership – the slave. This tends to occur because many fear that in adopting AI in the creative process, their role will be made redundant. But for Dave, rather that automating creativity, he believes it will augment creativity. How exactly? What is suggested is that creative AI is simply another tool in the creative process. For him, artists have always used tools to create. For illustrators it is the pen, for photographers it is the camera. Now, creative AI is the new generation of creative tools.

Then, on stage comes the artist who has popularised this new generation of creative tools, Ross Goodwin. As the keynote for the session, Goodwin delved into ‘Narrated Reality’, and spoke of how he has utilised creative AI in his artistic process. Goodwin is an intimidatingly impressive guy, with an undergraduate degree in Economics from MIT, a stint as a ghostwriter during Obama’s presidency at the White House and has a graduate degree from NYU’s ITP program. But he is very humble about his accomplishments and attributes his success to chance, mainly because he discovered an interest in coding and machine learning as a way to be more efficient during his time as a freelance writer. Fast forward a few years, and Goodwin has many AI-powered artistic projects to his name – from Lexiconjure, his dictionary of invented words, to word.camera, a camera that narrates photographs in real time, to Sunspring, the world’s first film created from an AI-written screenplay.

Joining Dave and Ross on the panel that followed the keynote talk was an interesting mix of significant people in the creative AI space. These included Joanna L. Batstone, Chief Technology Officer of IBM Australia and New Zealand, John Mccormack, an Australian-based artist and researcher in computing and Michaela Futcher Head of Strategy with us at The Royals. According the panelists, the biggest highlights in the human and machine partnership is the scale of effort. For Batstone, the aggregating of huge amounts of data will free artists from mediocre tasks and allow them to learn from the data to create great ideas. However, we must be weary with the data the machines use. According to John, we can’t widely appropriate things without acknowledging its origins, as sources of “grand truth” can be quite bias. Instead, it is our responsibility to understand and be conscience of the exchange when we sign up to use these tools, which, as Michaela points out, will be second nature to the upcoming generation who are aware and more than willing to hand over their data if it means they can have access to these tools.

I wish I could find myself in a room with impressively intellectual people more often. Although extremely intimidating, they made me are of possibilities and considerations for creative AI I never thought imaginable. This new generation of machine creative tools open a world of possibility for artists to commence an artistic pursuit they never thought possible or to expand they already exisiting endeavours.

Louise “Shred” Richards
Y2, Program Manager.