As a creative with a tech background, every few years I like to get to grips with new toys. Staying ahead of technological innovation should be a priority for any firm, regardless of the space it works in. But I do this in my own time. It’s fun.
At Grey we’ve worked on several innovations in recent years, with various success, at the intersection of creativity and technology. The two are not mutually exclusive, as some would have you believe. There were a couple of chatbots we made that went south fast. Then, there was the Swedish Number: the campaign that allowed anyone in the world to call a random Swedish citizen. For the 2nd phase we created a chatbot designed to talk about meatballs, we had 200,000 calls before it closed.
This sort of work is my bread and butter. So when Grey was asked to come up with something cool to show at Cannes, for the Personal Creativity Power Hour, my team knew who to ask. “Perry, show them your paintings” they said. So I did.
Now, to clarify, I’m a fairly normal person. I have a wife and kids and live in a normal house. But when I get home at night, I like to paint. I don’t use a paintbrush. Or paint, for that matter. But I can replicate the style of Picasso, Monet, and Renoir.
As I’m still in Cannes, and just in case anyone from Interpol is nearby, I should probably note that I'm no master of art forgery. It’s a personal project that has transcended into my work life.
Some time ago, I taught myself to code and built an AI, which I named PerryAI. PerryAI works on the concept of semantic mapping. I won’t bore you with how the code works, but basically, It studies an image, pixel by pixel, and learns the brush strokes. You can then ‘paint’ in the style of whichever artist Perry has learned. I could take pictures of whoever I liked, and map them into convincing portraits in the style of Picasso. Which is clearly hilarious.
Soon enough, people wanted to be painted in the style of various famous works. Then we started giving them to clients and prospects. Try approaching a new client and telling them “I’ve made a painting of you screaming.” Remarkably, they were popular. I did about 100 in total.
There’s something to be said about the fact that almost everyone wanted to see themselves stylised as the most expensive paintings in the world. Renoir’s Portrait of Jeanne Samary, his most famous work – famous, that is, for not being for sale, and essentially priceless – was a common request.
But trying to replicate that painting taught me the limitations of technology. AI, in its present form, will always require human input. The robots aren’t coming for our jobs just yet. After at least nine hours of attempts, it became clear that PerryAI is not capable of generating portraits with convincing eyes. That’s the five per cent of expression that our technology can’t replicate.
There’s definitely a lesson to be learned about what we can achieve with tech. About where the line between human and android blurs. About how we can ad should harness such innovations to stay ahead of the pack.
But the bigger lesson for me was understanding that work-life balance isn’t necessarily about getting home and compartmentalising my professional and home self. Learning the hard way, in my own time, made my work life more edifying. Doing something different – outside of our comfort zone – is how we learn about our own limitations. PerryAI made people happy, and I have a new skill. I would implore you do the same.