BUT CAN THE COMPUTER KISS YOUR BEHIND LIKE ME?

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For years, I have been giving various bosses my copywriting, and for years those various bosses have been kind enough to tell me who could have produced better work. The list usually includes "a baboon," "my lazy brother-in-law," and "a damn machine."

These threats have never concerned me. I knew the SPCA would keep animals away from anyone as abusive as my bosses. And I know my bosses' brothers-in-law would never work during daylight hours, unless a law was passed closing bars until sunset.

As far as being replaced by a machine, I always said, "If you can find a machine that could do a better job than me, you'd be an idiot not to replace me!" Like most boasts based on a presumption of my superiority in anything, this one has been called.

And, predictably, I lost.

Scientists have just developed a computer program that can produce creative work that has been judged as good as the work of top advertising industry professionals.

I have enjoyed writing this column. I hope you enjoy the microchip that will soon replace me. As long as this publication is still cutting me checks, though, I might as well tell you about the computer program that is going to replace creative types and force us to find jobs that require us to put on shoes.

Scientists at Jerusalem's Hebrew University didn't set out to destroy my career. That was a byproduct of their study. Their intent was to find out if people could produce more creative and original ideas when subjected to certain constraints. They didn't need a study for that. I could have told them the answer is yes. I only produce anything under the constraint of my rent being due.

These scientists, who I am hoping will be replaced by Dustbusters, decided to study advertising. Advertising, it seems, is one of the easiest forms of creativity to study, since 89 percent of all ads follow one of six "creativity templates." The most common template is "replacement." This is when some feature of the advertised product is replaced by an unexpected object. For instance, the support a Nike shoe provides was depicted in an ad by a group of firemen holding a shoe. In this case, the shoe was "replaced" by the safety net for people fleeing a burning building.

It seems almost 20 percent of ads are based on the idea of "replacement." Human ad executives and a computer were both asked to create an ad for a World Cup Tennis Match in Jerusalem. The humans came up with putting the tournament posters on the ancient city's walls. Not bad. The computer replaced the dome of a grand mosque with a tennis ball.

I have to admit that computer is pretty good, too. Yeah, yeah. I'll clean out my desk in a minute. A panel of judges said the ads created by the computers were just about as good as award-winning ads created by humans. The key difference is computers don't demand expense accounts or stare wistfully into space until their muse arrives.

The one positive note for me in this story was that ads created by "laypeople" -- i.e., your lazy brother-in-law -- who were "given complete freedom, failed to reach even the low threshold of creativity," the researchers said. The scientists concluded we should encourage creativity in new ways.

I'd like to point out to my bosses that "new ways" do not necessarily translate into "without Joe." The way the researchers put it was: "Randomness should be reserved for problems in which constraints originating in non-creative requirements limit the solution space to a unique or to a very small number of solutions."

I have absolutely no idea what this means, either. But I'm sure it will be clear as day once the computer does the rewrite.

Joe Mullich is a writer in California. His work has appeared in The Los Angeles

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