September 8, 2023

AI in Marketing, Design and Ethics | Interview with Johan Salo

In the latest episode of The PinMeTo Podcast, we talk to Johan Salo, a seasoned expert in the digital production industry with over 15 years of experience. Johan shares valuable insights into the world of AI, from its potential impact on marketing and design to ethical considerations.

"Dig into it, get your hands dirty," says Johan, emphasising the urgency for designers and creatives to adapt to AI technologies.

Johan's intriguing journey takes us from his experiments on brain-computer interfaces to his current role at Ambition, where he combines AI and design to help professionals reach their highest potential.

To hear the full conversation, search for "The PinMeTo Podcast" on your favourite podcast app or find us on Spotify.

Conversation transcript

The text has been lightly edited for clarity.

[00:00:00.540] - Bernardo Candeias
Hello everybody, and welcome to the PinMeTo Podcast. Our guest today is Johan Salo. He's a dynamic design leader at Ambition Group and also an expert in everything AI. I'm sure it's going to be a very interesting conversation with two AI bubbles, me and him. So looking forward to speaking with him right after this. Hey, everybody. I'm here with Johan Salo hello, Johan.

[00:00:52.950] - Johan Salo

[00:00:54.360] - Bernardo Candeias
Welcome to the PinMeTo podcast.

[00:00:57.310] - Johan Salo
Well, thank you.

[00:00:58.740] - Bernardo Candeias
Very nice to have you here. The first question is a very hard one. Who is Johan Salo? What do you do? Tell us a little bit about yourself.

[00:01:08.780] - Johan Salo
I mean, that's a really tricky question if you don't know it. I have our 15 years of experience in the digital production industry. But as a background, I started out as an interaction designer, like a student of design, where I started to do this… I was more into art and interactive installations, and I thought I wanted to do some thought-provoking installation that was interactive, that made people be enthusiastic and more engaged in the experience rather than perhaps bringing value and to create meaning on a larger scale than just right here and now. As I work now, I still want to blow people's minds, if you want to say that, but more in a meaningful and inclusive way. Not just to create some disturbance in the street with some culture people. That's my focus now.

[00:02:28.530] - Bernardo Candeias
It's a very good focus to blow people's minds. I think that's awesome. We invited you here to speak about something that is super important for any company these days. It's super important for us to think about it in terms of art in the future, in terms of the entertainment industry, because things are going to sure change a lot. We've noticed this... People are more aware of artificial intelligence because of the new tools that came out a year ago for generative AI and images and ChatGPT, etc. Can you tell us a little bit about the history of artificial intelligence? Because it didn't start last year. It's been around forever. Tell us a little bit about it. Also, what do you think about the tools that we have at our disposal these days?

[00:03:36.090] - Johan Salo
Okay. I can't tell you the whole history of AI, but from my perspective, at least, as I understand it, there's several ways of looking at it. Ai is a research field, but it's also something on a more philosophical sense that artificial intelligence is something that might happen. It might be something that machines could achieve that we're building intelligence into machines. Of course, when you talk about AI now, we talk about generative AI. Your you might mean that you're talking about ChatGPT or Google Bard or Midjourney or something like that. Well, for me, it started more or less around 2018 when I read this paper from research in China. They wanted to monitor workers' stress levels in a factory based on their brainwaves. They used this brain computer interface to measure brainwaves. They meant that they could actually see who was behind the brain wave. Based on the theta waves, they could notice that people were slacking off and they can also see who it was. I thought I wanted to replicate this design experiment in a prototype. I just used it on a few colleagues when I was doing my PhD at Malmo University. I was so surprised that I could actually, I think it was around about 95% probability I could recognise who it was that it was having this device.

[00:05:27.300] - Johan Salo
Also, I could see if the person was sitting or standing on one leg or so. But it was not validated more than in a few tests. But that actually opened my mind on GPT. Because at that time, I think GPT-2 was available. I started using some of the tools available, apps, and try out to how can I get a hold on GPT-3? So then in November, December, when they released to the public ChatGPT, I was so amazed that, okay, it seems like it's happening now because Elon Musk warned about that they shouldn't release to the public, but they did anyway. Here we are, this booming AI thing.

[00:06:20.870] - Bernardo Candeias
Absolutely. Everybody needs to adapt to it. This is quite mandatory because it's going to take a life-long process of itself. You were talking about ChatGPT. Of course, we can use this on other generative systems like Midjourney, DALL-E, et cetera. But what is a prompt? Is it a way to speak to a computer? Can you explain exactly what it is?

[00:06:52.740] - Johan Salo
Yeah, a prompt, it is an instruction that you give to, let's say, ChatGPT or Midjourney. In ChatGPT, you can just write... You can copy-paste the text, for example, and then you say, create this. Then you will get a lengthy answer on your text's content and quality. But in general, you don't need to overthink the prompt. It's important to give it context. There's also different things to think about, like you should give it a directive, a tone of voice. Maybe you want to consider you have an audience, then you want to describe the complex picture of the audience, or you just say it should be informal or formal.

[00:07:42.520] - Bernardo Candeias
Exactly. It's an actual instruction we give to one of these machines to do what we intend them to do. As you mentioned, we can ask for to write this text in a certain tone of voice or as if you were a managing director of a company or as if you were eight-year-old. That's basically the prompt part. A lot of people are concerned about their jobs these days because they see that they can be replaced. We have, for example, currently, at least at this time, there is a lot of... There's two strikes in the United States for the the writers and the Actors Guild of America that are afraid that AI might be able to replicate their image rights. And a lot of book writers also are trying to avoid ChatGPT to read their books and try to emulate their writing. My question to you is, how can we avoid being replaced by AI?

[00:09:05.180] - Johan Salo
Okay, how I would avoid being replaced? You would be replaced if you don't understand how it works in the current time now. It doesn't matter what technology that comes around. Let me give you a personal example. When I was about 2008 or so, Steve Jobs said that they want to stop Bluetooth in iPhones, and also they want to also stop Flash. I was working on a Flash project where you could send images to a big screen out in the public. It was a combination of Bluetooth and Flash. Then actually, I had no product anymore because everyone was buying iPhones. We needed to adapt, understand what was coming, and start making apps instead. That was more like a concrete example of how we adapted. But now I think just dig into it, get your hands dirty. That's my motto as a designer. When I start at a new job or see new technology, just start using it and see how it goes.

[00:10:27.260] - Bernardo Candeias
Absolutely. We really need to adapt to innovation because we've been adapting to innovation for millions of years. With tools and ways to hunt, etc, But most recently, people are quite... They don't like innovation as much as we would like. For example, from the old cinema that didn't have audio, had only music to the actual recording of voices, that was a big change in Hollywood and nobody wanted it to happen. But it ended up happening and it's okay. I think innovation is very good and we should embrace it so that we don't get replaced by these machines. PinMeTo is also about marketing, as you know, location marketing. Not specifically about PinMeTo, but do you have a good example of AI applied to marketing? Have you heard recently something that is pretty cool to share with us? A very good way to apply AI to marketing?

[00:11:49.220] - Johan Salo
Yeah. When I was researching, it was a research course. I noticed that they took big data from London, from personal data from customers, and made this marketing campaign on the ''Smoothie of London'' based on what people like in London. They said it was some AI involved, but this was in 2017, so I couldn't see that it was that advanced. But now I see in... Did you see the Coke ad where they used AI to create live animations in a museum? Yes. I see that they were quite early. When I went to the train to Malmo from Copenhagen, I actually have it with me here. They actually made this. You can see it? It says, ''Flavour Co-created with AI.'' Is this an ad? Yeah. It just shows that they are working with AI somehow to show us that they know what they are talking about somehow.

[00:13:10.990] - Bernardo Candeias
They're trying things. Okay. Artificial intelligence, one of the things that come up a lot around the conversations about AI and the future is ethics. How do we teach a machine, so to speak, to what's wrong and what's right? What's your take on that?

[00:13:39.320] - Johan Salo
I know that generative AI is like a black box. You don't really know. When you write something and you get something produced and if you ask it, Where did you get this from? It can't show the references from it. There's an initiative working on something called XAI. It stands for explainable artificial intelligence. It means that the results of AI should be understood. The overaching goal of this initiative is to make the decision-making process of AI models more transparent. You should be able to interpret it. How can we understand how the model is created? Who should we blame if something goes wrong? Who takes responsibility for the content of the AI?

[00:14:30.840] - Bernardo Candeias
Yeah, that box that you just mentioned, that is a grey area where we don't know exactly what's going on there. Yeah, we don't know how we're going to control it. But I think Stanley Kubrick has an idea on 2001, Space Odyssey, where Hal 9000 gets his own mind. Maybe that can happen. We don't know. We don't know. But that's a good movie to watch about AI that was done a long time ago. A long time ago.

[00:15:08.950] - Johan Salo
I remember it was very long, the movie. How many hours?

[00:15:13.310] - Bernardo Candeias
I don't know, but it's probably close to three. But, it's incredible how even with Blade Runner, Star Wars, etc, Star Trek, they actually could predict these things because it's so natural that innovation happens because it has to, because it's part of life. It's really awesome to see now things actually happening in real life. It's really amazing. But people are afraid sometimes, of course, for this innovation. We have some European countries that are not so happy with ChatGPT and other AI platforms. Some want somehow to ban them or at least to control them much more. What are your predictions in terms of the legality, how legal AI can be in the future?

[00:16:21.200] - Johan Salo
I think it's possible to ban certain services and tools like ChatGPT. You could ban it until they figure out how to pay artists and/or how to protect our private data. But you could just as well download your own model and have it in your own computer. That is more difficult to ban, I believe.

[00:16:48.410] - Bernardo Candeias
Yeah. It can't be controlled, basically.

[00:16:52.350] - Johan Salo
Basically, it's really difficult.

[00:16:54.580] - Bernardo Candeias
It's really difficult now that it's out there. Let's speak about design. Let's think about the decision process behind design. Now that we can use Midjourney and other tools that now we can actually even make a mock-up of what we need and they can match up images and work with the different artistic visuals. Can you share or do you have any experience of when AI significantly influenced or improved design process or decision of yours?

[00:17:37.830] - Johan Salo
Yeah, man, I used it in the whole design process, maybe not in the craft itself, but mostly, for example, if I do a plan for a project, I give it context and then it provides me with a structure. Yeah, right, you have to have the research question and also perhaps related research so you can get ahead really quickly and then start filling out your own content, of course. If I want to present insights on a project, a long project, I can just prompt the objectives and the context of the project. Then I can ask, for example, ChatGPT, can you give me a structure of an amazing slide show that says this, this, and this for this audience, maybe I turn myself to UX designers or to business people. You have to have the right lingo so they can listen to what you say. In most of the process, I find ChatGPT as my design assistant, so to speak. But all the decisions and all the text, of course, I write, but ChatGPT can help me almost to get there. Do you understand what I mean?

[00:19:03.490] - Bernardo Candeias
Absolutely. It's a great idea generator. Absolutely. Joan, especially about designers because they are also afraid and they need to be more involved in AI in the future as a support tools or their own tools. I believe Adobe, for example, will work with certainly. They are right now developing AI stuff. They did with Adobe Firefly, for example. What is your suggestion, your tips for someone, for a designer these days don't want to lose the wave and surf it in terms of AI, especially for designers? Yeah.

[00:19:59.820] - Johan Salo
Do you mean like if I, as a designer, lose myself in AI or do you mean how do I find my way in the AI world?

[00:20:08.910] - Bernardo Candeias
Yes. Imagine, I'm a young designer. I don't want to be left out because I can't, because the future is here. What do I do? Where do I start?

[00:20:23.230] - Johan Salo
My main source of information is now mostly LinkedIn and Medium, where I follow the persons that I really like professionally. They often post about the latest stuff all the time. For example, if you just follow OpenAI on LinkedIn and you follow Generative AI, you will get tons of tips and you see them. As they release something, you see it immediately. If you are in medium, you also follow, okay, this article was good. You follow that person and then it grows, you get recommended to the articles you need to read.

[00:21:07.530] - Bernardo Candeias
Absolutely. Are you listening to any podcast or reading any book that you can suggest?

[00:21:14.240] - Johan Salo
Yeah. I really like Lex Fridman's podcast. He invites a lot of people from here, left and right, here and there. He had an interesting discussion with the author, that made the book called Sapiens, which I also recommend to read. Hartmut Rosa's Acceleration of Society. It is how technological innovation drives a faster pace in society. Then the municipalities come with regulations and then we amend even more, so it gets faster and faster and faster.

[00:21:59.390] - Bernardo Candeias
Those are really good suggestions for us. Final question is a very difficult one. We need to, of course, think a little bit about that. But do you think, and not just in design, generally in health, for example, in many fields, basically all industries, do you think that AI in a few years will actually be able to substitute human intuition, at least for some jobs? Do you believe that can happen?

[00:22:40.790] - Johan Salo
Right now, I can't see it, but it can happen. I think designers, what differentiate us designers to the AI tool is that we can feel and we can empathise with customers and users, and AI can't do that yet. But then again, you see Elon Musk's new initiative with having neuro-implants in pigs, eventually into humans, that could affect something in the brain, perhaps. We don't know that yet. But it's both intriguing and exciting as it is alarming and a little bit crazy. If you just google Elon Musk, Neuralink and Pigs, you will see this.

[00:23:35.180] - Bernardo Candeias
There, it's super well explained how it happens, but we don't know exactly the practically the effects of it. But it's very interesting. Of course it is. We don't know what's going to happen. That's the true thing. But we need to keep our eyes and our brains on artificial intelligence and everything around it because it's here, it's the future. Johan, to wrap this up, tell us about what you do, your company, what's behind it, your projects. Tell us a little bit about that.

[00:24:10.500] - Johan Salo
All right, yeah. With a background in research and design, so my passion is to learn and to evolve design somehow. At my company, Ambition, we are empowering the world's designers by supporting them to reach the highest potential through our online membership service. It's called Ambition and Power. Here is where AI and design comes in, where AI, UX, design and product thought leaders help our members to stay ahead. That's also where I found out about AI and design because I, myself, invested in that learning track AI and design. That's what I do.

[00:24:55.980] - Bernardo Candeias
But just to ask you, what projects are you working on at the moment that you can talk about?

[00:25:02.400] - Johan Salo
Yeah. At the moment, quite recently, I finished off this loyalty program where I was doing research. Right now, I'm looking at ways of working with AI and design, but also how to create rituals and processes for UX designer in a new way. That's my current job.

[00:25:29.740] - Bernardo Candeias
That's a big job, I'm certain, and it will be even more in the future. Please have a look at Joan's company and their projects. The link is somewhere over there. Thanks, everybody, for watching. Joan, thank you so much for being here. I'm sure we'll have more chances to talk about AI and discuss all of this amazing world that is being drawn upon us. It's super great to be speaking with you. And we'll see you soon, Johan.

[00:26:01.400] - Bernardo Candeias
Thanks a lot.

[00:26:02.810] - Johan Salo
Bye-bye. Thank you very much.

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