Why ChatGPT and AI can’t make world-changing transformative work

Words by Ross Clugston
Date 2023-05-10

ChatGPT is everywhere. Microsoft is betting billions on it. It’s writing copy for ads for Ryan Reynolds.

It feels – even at this relatively nascent stage in its development – that ChatGPT can turn its hand to pretty much any creative task. And the results are pretty much OK.

So, is this the end of human creativity? Are our ideas a lot less original than we thought? Will AI replace creatives? The short answer: No, because ChatGPT is a word changer, not a world changer.

Nick Cave agrees. In a recent blog post, the Australian songwriter responded to an attempt by ChatGPT (and a super fan) to write a song in his style. Cave argued that AI technology could never produce anything more than “replication as travesty” – harsh words, we know. But rightfully harsh.

“It could perhaps in time create a song that is, on the surface, indistinguishable from an original, but it will always be a replication, a kind of burlesque,” Cave wrote. “Songs arise out of suffering, by which I mean they are predicated upon the complex, internal human struggle of creation and, well, as far as I know, algorithms don’t feel. Data doesn’t suffer.”

He’s right – for now, anyway.

David Ogilvy argued that creatives helped brands and businesspeople escape “the tyranny of reason.” Hyper logical, left-brain thinking is often at odds with generating really game-changing creative ideas. And this is still true in the era of ChatGPT.

“The creative process requires more than reason,” Ogilvy wrote in “Confessions of an Advertising Man.” “Most original thinking isn’t even verbal. It required ‘a groping experimentation with ideas, governed by intuitive hunches and inspired by the unconscious.’ The majority of businessmen are incapable of original thinking because they are unable to escape from the tyranny of reason. Their imaginations are blocked.”

AI tools are incredible imitators. Because that is exactly what they are designed to do: imitate. ChatGPT doesn’t actually know what it is saying, or even what it means. As a language processing model, it digests oceans of data from the internet and then spits out sentences and syntax based on statistical probability.

It’s an aggregation of the average. This is what being trapped within the tyranny of reason really looks like.

And it is far from the complex struggles which birth the work of Nick Cave and his fellow creatives. As Ogilvy notes, creativity requires more than reason. ChatGPT and AI tools can’t comprehend the complex contextual sensitivities of human experience. It can’t see how comedy can come from tragedy, as Mel Brooks can tell you: “Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die.”

By the way, this isn’t me saying we need to hurt or emotionally scar ChatGPT. I think we should be nice to robots. I don’t want them to be sad. And there are really useful applications for AI. It can enhance the work creatives do immeasurably. It can also help you “beat the blank.” There is nothing more terrifying than receiving an important brief and staring deeply into nothingness on paper or on your screen. AI tools are really good for getting ideas going – they can kick-start your engine, open doors and give suggestions.

But as a creative on its own, AI is no better than average. It can look only at what has already been done. In that vein, mood board creativity is something that truly brilliant artists will always lean away from. It’s like trying to win an award by copying past winners. ChatGPT could never imagine something like “Fearless Girl.” It couldn’t experience the “happy accident” of creativity as two disparate ideas are connected by your unique emotional response.

Struggle is an important part of the creative process, and it can’t be underestimated. Transformative work is imbued with emotion that AI simply can’t process right now.

First published in AdAge.