Every few months it seems something new is talked about as a potential creativity killer. First, it was data. Next, it was Web3. Now it’s Generative AI. We regularly receive unsolicited cold calls from those who claim that they can show us how to master ChatGPT, DALL·E, and Stable Diffusion.
Even Hollywood screenwriters are on strike with one of their primary concerns being whether AI will take their jobs. Yet, are these tools really creativity killers, or enablers that will unleash a whole new world of possibilities?
To ensure that it’s the latter, we need to keep our eyes on one thing: The logic of these tools needs to be married to the magic of creativity. I discuss this at length in my recent book The Creative Human.
One of the many examples of logic vs magic I explore in the book is the emergence of ragtime in 19th Century New Orleans. A precursor to jazz, ragtime, was characterized by syncopated rhythm, which meant that a variety of rhythms played together, making all or part of the tune off-beat.
This was known as torn or “ragged” rhythm (hence the name ragtime) as it deviated from what was “correct” according to classical ears. Ragtime soon led to the advent of jazz, still considered by some to be America’s greatest cultural export and the foundation of rock, pop, and hip-hop.
Ragged notes were wrong only if you applied logic to them. But if you embraced them, you were opened to an ocean of audio opportunities. The logic that these notes were “wrong” would have killed jazz in the crib, and stunted the development of the genres that emerged from it. The world of music would have been a very different place, and, I believe, a worse one.
It’s important for creative people to train their illogical side. Their crazy side. The side that makes them break the rules.
The Lord of the Rings, for example, came forth from unlikely origins when JRR Tolkien suddenly had an idea and wrote, “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit”. He had no idea what a hobbit was. It just came over him and he felt inspired enough to write it down. This eventually led him to his magnum opus, The Lord of The Rings trilogy.
If he had been too logical at that moment, he would have asked himself, “What even is a hobbit? What’s this nonsense? Forget it!” and the world would have been deprived of one of its greatest pieces of fiction.
Instead, he recognized the magic inherent in the line. Before long, a whole world took shape around that concept. Entire civilizations, cultures, characters, plots, and scenarios grew from it and an epic series of novels, and later screen adaptations, became possible.
And it all started with a completely illogical few words.
There’s a lot of logic in this world. Doctors, engineers, lawyers, accountants, and economists, operate within its boundaries, and we need that. We don’t want doctors to get too imaginative with their insulin doses or engineers to become too lax with the way they construct your local bridge. But when most people in the world are logical, who brings the magic? The creatives, of course.
Data, Web3 and Generative AI are great new instruments for the orchestra of creativity, but the creative brain will continue to be the conductor.
One of the most memorable creative uses of data was done by Spotify a few years ago. They leveraged their data to uncover unique anecdotes and used them as the basis for a series of billboards.
Some of these billboards were, “Dear person who played ‘Sorry’ 42 times on Valentine’s Day, what did you do?”, “Be as loving as the person who put 48 Ed Sheeran songs on their ‘I Love Gingers’ playlist.”, “Exercise more conventionally than the 46 people who put ‘Slow Hands’ on their running playlists.”, and “To the person in NoLIta who started listening to holiday music way back in June, you really jingle all the way, huh?”
Just like data, AI offers creatives incredible new tools. Turkish artist Refik Anadol specializes in a creative medium he calls Machine Hallucinations. He feeds data of various forms into AI and lets it create trippy visualizations. In 2022, he placed sensors around the iconic Barcelona building Casa Batlló to pick up real-time environmental data and fed this into AI to create otherworldly machine hallucinations projected onto the building’s façade. This then became a dynamic NFT that sold for a whopping $1.38 million.
While technology was critical to both of these impressive works of creativity, they wouldn’t have been possible without human ingenuity.
As we take our creativity into the future, armed with exciting new tools, it’s vital to observe what’s changing. But it’s equally important to keep track of what is not changing: Creativity continues to be about magic more than logic.
You can read more from Vasanth Seshadri in his book The Creative Human.
Vasanth Seshadri is Founder and Creative Director of The Sunny Side and author of “The Creative Human” and “Cultural Engineering”