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Initiative at #AWEurope : Augmented Creativity

Jules Castenskiold
Jules Castenskiold (former) Business Development Director

On 23rd March Initiative presented this seminar "Augmented Creativity" on the opening day of AdWeek Europe… Here’s a post-match analysis by our Communications Director of IPG Mediabrands UK, James Richards:


The Guardian Green Room is a relaxed space with white leather sofas, air conditioning and cool blue lighting. Tucked away in the heart of the BAFTA building, it’s the perfect place to reflect on Initiative’s #AWEurope panel, Augmented Creativity -  ‘Man Vs. Machine’ – 45 minutes of discussion on the mouth-watering subject of how computer artificial intelligence could impact the creative industries. 

We were lucky enough to have a stellar group of intellectuals and artists on the panel: Damian Barr, a writer, novelist and playwright; Helen Mort, poet; and, Juliette Kristensen, cultural historian at Goldsmith’s College and the RCA. These guests joined J.Paul Neeley, co-founder of Yossarian Lives, and of course, Lee Ramsay, Initiative’s own Head of Innovation.

Yossarian Lives is a new kind of search engine that yields metaphorical results. Initiative and Yossarian have been working together for around a year, as part of our ongoing approach to partner with interesting technological and creative businesses, to bring something extra to our planning process. Members of the Initiative planning teams have been trained to use the search engine to breathe life into client briefs. So far, it’s produced some great results. So when Advertising Week Europe came along, we thought it would be interesting to explore the idea of ‘creative technology’ with a diverse panel of experts, and debate the notions of creativity and metaphor with those both inside and outside of the advertising world.

Our session kicked off on the YouTube Stage at 4.30pm. Damian Barr, writer and columnist, proved a host par excellence. Drawing on his experience as host of the Shoreditch House Literary Salon, he brought a swagger and a wit to the event, and a mischievous sense of humour. He framed the debate as a fundamental conflict between man and machine, by telling the story of Ned Ludd, figurehead of the loom-burning group, the Luddites, a name now synonymous with those who reject or fear technological advancements. 

From this start, the panellists quickly got into their stride, and segued between some fascinating subjects – could a machine every write the perfect poem? Does intelligent technology spell the end of the advertising creative? Juliette made the observation that when photography was invented, portrait painting became somewhat redundant. But far from undermining the existence of art, this new technology set it free; artists were suddenly free to experiment with abstraction, and a whole new era of art was initiated. Perhaps, she argued, new forms of AI technology should be viewed in this light.

Helen was quick to point out however, that, sometimes, creativity can’t be rushed. She said that the ideas for her poems sometimes take months to germinate, often only fully emerging after another thought had ‘collided’ with it. J.Paul, who has been working with Initiative for a year on Yossarian Lives, suggested that his creative search engine was not designed to replace creative thought, but rather, to speed up this serendipitous process.   

Lee, who has led the adaptation of Yossarian at Initiative, said that he didn’t see Yossarian as being a limiting force. He suggested that the teams using the creative search engine had benefitted hugely from it, and that it had proved itself an empowering, illuminating tool. 

The session seemed to fly past, and, as it closed, the audience were hungry for more. In truth, there was enough interesting, mind-expanding brain nourishment here to last people for several weeks!


You always hope to contribute something unique to an event like #AWEurope, and our session felt like an intellectual gem. We aimed to raise the bar for smart, informed discussion about a cutting-edge topic, and I think we nailed it.