Katie Couric and Robert Wong explore the future of AI and creativity
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Katie Couric and Robert Wong explore the future of AI and creativityFebruary 2024
We see AI all around us. And seemingly every day, we see its capabilities expand.
In this episode of Future Ready by Think with Google, award-winning journalist Katie Couric discusses the future of AI and creativity with Robert Wong. As a graphic designer, creative director, and a VP at Google’s Creative Lab, he has a unique perspective on what people can do now to prepare for the future of AI within the creative industry.
Wong describes AI as the most profound and transformative creative tool he’ll ever come across, explains its limitations, and shares his simple advice for becoming more familiar with AI: Play with it.
[ambient techno music plays]
Katie Couric: [voice-over] Welcome to Future Ready by Think with Google. I’m Katie Couric. Robert Wong is a graphic designer and creative director, best known for his work as co-founder of the Creative Lab at Google and design chief at Starbucks.
Robert Wong: I feel so honored to be here. I shouldn’t be here!
Couric: Oh, come on! What are you talking about?
Couric: Robert, as a designer in a sea of engineers at Google, you have a unique point of view on the advent of AI and its influence on the workforce.
A lot of people are really nervous, Robert, as you know, about AI. But you say you have never been more excited by the promise of this technology. Convince me why.
Wong: First of all, as a person that is playing with it, it’s like a shiny new toy in the sense that it’s probably the most profound and transformative creative tool I’ve come across in my lifetime and probably will. That’s one thing. I think the excitement also comes with — I’m a fan of anything that expands human potential.
And this is one of those tools that I think will not only raise the floor of creativity, but raise the ceiling of creativity. What I mean by that is, you don’t have to know how to code or use a computer to use the most advanced technology. I think that’s the one part of raising the floor.
And raising the ceiling, I don’t know what it’s going to be like, but I think, with most technology it’s never really how impressive the technology is. It’s, most of the time, what people do with the technology that’s most impressive. So I don’t know what that will look like. But I think that with a tool that powerful, I think it might lift creativity and other things up to levels we’ve never seen before.
Couric: You’ve had fun with the AI. You’ve made this series of selfies. These are cool, right? And these were all made with AI?
Wong: Yep. Yes
Couric: So tell us about your experience of doing this, and how did AI create these images?
Wong: You know, you feed the AI model with a couple of images of myself and then just prompt it like: “Hey, make Robert as a K-pop star.” And there it is. I look pretty good as a K-pop star. But you can do that with lots of different prompts. And it’s a lot of fun. I think, you know, whenever there’s a new toy and you don’t know what the utility is, the natural tendency for creative people is just to tinker and, you know, do things that make them laugh.
Wong: Yeah, and interestingly enough, through that play, you actually stumble upon utility.
Couric: Is that what you would encourage other people to do, to sort of play with AI, to experiment, to get comfortable with it?
Wong: Absolutely. My advice to anyone is play with AI more than you read about AI. Because nothing beats a hands-on experience of generative AI. And, you’ll see its potential. You’ll stretch its potential. You’ll question it. You’ll ask, “Oh! If the tool could only do this,” and then there’s engineers in the back going, “Oh, we can build that.”
And then by the creators and the engineers and researchers working together, you kind of end up cobbling together the tools that we will use and our kids will use. It’s kind of an exciting time actually.
Couric: Tell us about how AI can be a resource for creative people like yourself.
Wong: A couple of things come to mind. One is literally as a creative partner. Sometimes you sketch ideas by asking questions as if it’s another person. Like, “What would a Pixel phone say to an iPhone if they were friends?”
So it becomes a quick way to prototype and sketch things. I think from a production perspective, you could just make a lot of versions very quickly and you can look at it and pick the best one. A lot of times you’re staring at a blank page, and that’s sometimes daunting. You have writer’s block, you have designer’s block, and just by saying a few words, the page could fill up and you can react to it.
Couric: And you can work with that.
Wong: You can work with it, yeah. Yeah.
Couric: The idea of a machine being creative just feels slightly discordant for a lot of people. What do you say to that?
Wong: Well, first of all, I don’t think the machine is creative at all. What generative AI is good at doing is looking to the past for answers. Whereas humans, you kind of look forward and you invent new answers.
Yes, AI can generate that picture or write that sentence, but it doesn’t understand what it wrote or what it creates.
I think the special skill that a human has is that they can look at the thing, they can truly understand how it could make someone feel, and know whether this thing is going to connect or not to another human.
AI doesn’t have taste. It can’t pick the best line. It could write a billion lines, but it doesn’t know that line is better than the other line.
If you’re a great storyteller before AI, you’ll be a great storyteller after AI. If you’re a crappy storyteller before AI, you’re going to be a crappy storyteller after AI.
Couric: Why do you think people shouldn’t be worried?
Wong: I think it’s healthy to worry. Because I think it’s important to use our anxieties productively. To raise voices, to change policy, to develop tools in the right way, to serve the right people, all those things. So I think we’re in the beginning of that. So I think a bit of worrying is healthy, to help everyone get to the right track.
Couric: What are you most excited about when it comes to the future of AI? Not only in 2024, but beyond. And what do you think it will mean for the next generation?
Wong: AI helping humanity solve some of its biggest, biggest challenges. Whether it’s climate change, poverty, health — and you’re already beginning to see beginnings of that in all areas of society.
I don’t know what it’s going to look like for my kids or my kids’ kids, but I have a feeling with people involved — curious, being compassionate, being thoughtful, being responsible, but being bold — we’re going to see amazing things.
Couric: Robert, thank you so much.
Couric: [voice-over] To watch more Future Ready conversations like this one, subscribe to the Think with Google YouTube channel. Thanks for watching.
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