AME Effective Perspective: Eye on AI with Chris Duffey

Chris joins Effective Perspective to share his insights on how AI is transforming business. He addresses what big brands are using AI effectively, how AI technology is being leveraged to assist brands in creating immersive and unexpected experiences, the future of AI and much more.

New York | November 22, 2019

2020 AME Grand Jury member Chris Duffey is Strategic Development Manager for Adobe. A former award-winning agency Executive Creative Director, Chris now spear-heads Adobe’s Creative Cloud strategic development partnerships across the Creative enterprise space. With keynotes that have received over 50+ million impressions and speakers sessions that have been reported around the world in Access Hollywood, Extra, Ok Magazine, Hello, People, Daily Mail and Euro News and more. Chris and his work has been featured by more than 100 global media outlets, including the Wall Street Journal, The Economist, Inc., Adweek, Adage, Cheddar, The Guardian, The Mirror, The Drum, Campaign,, NYPost, Business Insider... and profiled by Google, McKinsey and Wharton in their digital marketing book. In additon, Chris also serves on Rutgers University Data Advisory Board and The Board of Directors for Association of National Advertisers NY. 

Chris joins Effective Perspective to share his insights on how AI is transforming business and helping marketers be more effective, including what big brands are using AI effectively, how AI technology is being leveraged to assist brands in creating immersive experiences, if AI will continue to improve data, and much more.

AME:  Your recent book 'Superhuman Innovation: Transforming Business with Artificial Intelligence' explores how AI is transforming business, tell us about the ways AI is helping marketers to be more effective.

Chris Duffey: Throughout my career as a creative director and creative technologist, I have always been fascinated when human creativity and ingenuity meet, and is then amplified by technology. The book explores in depth how, over the past number of years, artificial intelligence has become one of the greatest technical advances. I wanted to celebrate the capabilities and possibilities of AI, but also to test its limits, not only by writing a book about it but actually using AI to help write it. Capturing AI’s current and future abilities has been a journey of exploration which has led to a number of exciting discoveries. But there were also times when it became clear that AI in certain instances is still maturing. So, in the hope of showing how transformational AI can be, I assembled some AI technologies to become a ‘coauthor’ – as a metaphor for how AI can be a creative assistant specifically when it comes to designing digital experiences.

Exceptional experiences have become critical to attracting and retaining customers. Creating amazing and contextual content is key to these experiences. When designed and informed correctly, powerful experiences change the way we interact, entertain, work and relate to the world around us. Experiences can be one-on-one, among families, friends, co-workers, collaborative, or through engaging in social media. They can also be one-to many, business-to-consumer, business-to-business, teacher-to student, government-to-citizen, artist-to-audience, and so on. Today, these data-informed experiences are how marketers, brands and businesses can break through the noise and make a connection and an impact.

Great experiences are powered by data and that in turn drives innovative business success. By leveraging the power of data, we can create experiences that matter. For instance, 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are created daily; AI can use much of that data to intelligently determine how consumers are interacting with or abandoning a brand. This helps inform what works and what doesn’t, leading to future experiences improved by insights, supported by data and brought to life through beautiful, powerfully created experiences. However, the paradox is, AI is not really about the technology in or of itself; it’s about how technology can be leveraged to assist in creating these immersive and unexpected experiences. With AI, machine learning and deep learning systems, machines are becoming indispensable and moving businesses into the realm of superhuman innovation. This is the true promise of how AI is helping marketers become more effective and valuable.

AME: Share how AI’s ability to optimize promotion and the selection of channels has changed the way we view the advertising cycle?

Chris Duffey: Creating great experiences spans the digital and analog world, from your client’s retail presence, if they have one, to website and apps, to customer support. Easier said than done, but it all starts with great design and great creative. This is where AI powered tools like Adobe Creative Cloud comes in. Because when we look out at the creative landscape, we see some challenges and in turn opportunities. Designers have to produce more content and more experiences than ever before – and that requires scale and velocity. And designers are looking to technology, specifically AI to help them get there. This is the landscape that informs every product decision Adobe makes. We know we have to help enterprises create content and great designs much faster and at scale. This is what we call Intelligent Experience Design – the goal here is designing exceptional experiences with purpose and at scale.

In many ways this is becoming table stakes for attracting and retaining customers. That means changes in both what is created and how it is created. And of course, technology has a role here. And there are two technology vectors at work; tools and data ­–that can help ensure that designers can create more intelligent experiences.

Firstly, New tools like XD, or new features that can be leveraged to create new immersive and unexpected experiences. We recently announced the shipment of Adobe Aero – our new augmented reality authoring tool. With 3D and augmented reality, we’re seeing an explosion in immersive content that blurs the line between the digital and physical worlds. And designing for voice is now an important consideration for designers. I’m pretty sure that no creative in companies currently studied interactive voice design when at art school, but with the massive popularity of voice-activated devices like Alexa…this means it’s a skill they are going to have to acquire. We built voice design capabilities into Adobe XD, our UI/UX tool, last year, and it is a stand-out feature.

Through all of this…Artificial Intelligence and Machine learning will aid the designer as they navigate this new tech and these new mediums. I know creatives sometimes worry when we mention AI in the context of their craft. Is the robot apocalypse upon us and will I lose my job? At Adobe we fundamentally believe that if AI can be done right...and by this we mean that AI will serve the creator of an experience while at the same time respecting the consumer of that experience…then AI will have the ability to amplify human creativity…opening up an exciting new world of creative possibilities. AI has the possibility to take the drudgery out of everyday creative work. A creative should not be defined by their ability to separate a model’s hair from the background of an image, using Photoshop, they should be defined by their creative vision, and no machine can come close to copying a human being’s unique creative spark. As we all know, people expect their experiences to be personalized, connected and flawless across every touch point and they won’t tolerate anything less: this is what is at the core of digital transformation.

Tools have a role, as we discussed, and the second technology vector is data. Using data to create better experiences for the customer by letting data inform and guide designs, content and channels. Case in point let’s talk about how Adobe does this. We map customer journeys for our products. Our digital transformation started in 2011 with our move to Creative Cloud and a subscription based business model. We went from having an arms-length relationship with customers, to having 24/7 engagement. We’re now running a fully digital business. Design has a critical role in every part of this new business model. At Adobe our design team has moved beyond being decorators of the user interface. They are now strategic collaborators to our business partners delivering designs that help customers navigate the journey through easy free sign-ups, engagement through trials, purchase, active use, ongoing value, and renewal. Every week we run over 200 experiments in the products and on to optimize this journey. It meant our design team had to retool to leverage data and rapid experimentation… and to do this they have added “Growth Design” as a discipline. The charter of this team is to get the largest % of our audience to experience our products' core value prop as quickly as possible, through rapid experimentation based on metrics and data…that’s not a mission you’d see from any design team a decade ago. What do all these designs look like? From a customer perspective, as they interact with Adobe from discovering a product – onwards…they are having a personalized experience – and now at scale. And this is AI’s ability to optimize Intelligent Experience Design.

AME: How is AI technology being leveraged to assist brands in creating immersive and unexpected experiences?

Chris Duffey: In the latest release of Adobe Creative Cloud tools at Adobe MAX, Sensei, Adobe’s AI/ML framework is now accelerating creatives’ work everywhere. Which highlights the importance of how technology, specifically AI can actually enhance the creative process.

Photoshop, now uses machine learning—Content-aware Fill—a dedicated workspace where designers now have control over what areas of the image to include or ignore, and options like rotation and mirroring to execute once-tedious image editing tasks in a single click.

In InDesign, Content-Aware Fit uses Sensei to analyze a placed image and automatically scale and position it to feature its subject and ideal composition automatically. And the new Adjust Layout feature makes short work of the task of re-working page elements to adapt to new formats and sizes.

Illustrator introduces the concept of Globally editing similar items without greater flexibility and few steps than existing Symbol-based workflows. Its Freeform Gradient feature overcomes past limitations of tools like Gradient Mesh to allow fast experimentation and deliver beautiful results.

Like InDesign, the latest release of XD offers an intuitive, automatic re-size option—responsive resize—that is critical for multi-screen design. And it delivers not only animation capabilities…but nearly effortless ones. Simply set a start and end state between Artboards and choose Auto-animate as the Action, and XD figures out everything in-between.

Adobe Sensei powers Premiere Pro’s Morph Cut feature by analyzing jump cuts in interview footage and using a combination of face tracking and frame interpolation to turn those jump cuts into seamless transitions.

Dimension uses Adobe Sensei to speed the 3D design process and create more realistic results, using a background image to automatically calculate different properties and apply them to a scene.  Match Image can recreate complex and realistic backgrounds including indoor light, sunlight and camera perspective.

Adobe Capture mobile app uses the same AI-driven font recognition that exists in Photoshop to identify similar fonts and create styles that can be saved and synced to a Creative Cloud library.

Character Animator is a webcam-driven way to generate live performance animation, and relies on Sensei’s ability to immediately detect and track facial features, as well as connect spoken audio directly to the appropriate mouth positions of an animated character. Sensei has learned from “watching” animated content to continue improving its interpretation of sound and get increasingly more accurate with its lip sync capabilities.

Adobe Stock Search also uses Sensei in a new way, but adding granularity to the concept of finding similar images. When using Find Similar or performing an image-based search, you can now choose whether you’re looking for similar content, similar color, similar composition, or all of the above.

Today there are more than 100 Sensei-powered capabilities in products or in our pipeline across Adobe Creative Cloud, Document Cloud and Experience Cloud.

AME: Will AI continue to improve data and how will the automation of analysis change campaigns?

Chris Duffey: Every 10 to 15 years or so, the world receives a new game-changing technology platform. Look at what the desktop computing and publishing revolution achieved for the democratization of the creation of and access to information via the internet. This was soon followed by the ubiquity of mobile devices that helped deliver all this content. That vast amount of data created the need for cloud storage. The desire to take advantage of that information, or digital exhaust (data that is the result of the choices and actions made by people online) led to the acceleration of the development of AI. In other words, artificial intelligence, in many ways, was driven by the need for a technology to help make sense of all this data. Because of this potential, AI has been compared to the invention of electricity, as an ambient operating system that will light the way forward for business innovation. AI has the potential to innovate the creation of products, services and experiences at scale and will then power automation to increase productivity for these outputs. Innovators have always been in the business of creating opportunities for their businesses and customers, and AI supercharges that opportunity. There’s a saying, attributed to Albert Einstein, that the true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination; and this is something we must not forget when leveraging AI for marketing campaigns, experience design and product design. What we mean by that is imagination can now be more informed and more tangibly enlightened through the unlocking of data. And it is with this premise that AI will have the biggest impact on improving data and the analysis of campaign optimization.

AME What big brands are using AI effectively and how is it making these brands more efficient?

Chris Duffey: Human ingenuity plus AI will bring about invention across industry verticals and brands in energy, fashion, finance, pharmaceuticals, recruiting, retail, advertising, art, automotive, aviation, banking, energy, security and sports... The potential effect on society is amazing and virtually unlimited. AI is leading to solutions for many of humanity’s problems, from improving health all the way up to global warming, increased lifespan, increased food supply and reduced poverty.

I spent many years in digital healthcare and it’s exciting to see AI’s impact on companies and brands in the health sector. For example, AI chatbots will, according to Juniper Research, produce annual cost savings that will exceed $3.6 billion globally by 2022. Chatbots save costs by allowing patients to access healthcare information more easily and efficiently.

Additionally, as we talked about before, products powered by Adobe Sensei will enable visual designers to work faster and more efficiently than ever before. Instead of arduously modifying a photo pixel by pixel, artificial intelligence makes it easy to automate precise changes to an image at will, even predicting suggested changes to a library of millions of photos. When that technology is combined with animation and three-dimensional editing, brands have the power to create entire immersive experiences from literally anywhere and at any time.

AME Where do you see AI taking brands in the next 5 years?

Chris Duffey: There is an old fable; A farmer was always complaining to his wife that his hands were cracked and dried. One day she came across a new ointment, and gave him a tin of it, telling him that the next time his hands started to hurt he should use it. It was windy and cold, and the work was hard, and soon enough his hands cracked and he was in pain. He opened the lid and found a small mirror inside. For the first time in his life he saw himself and he was astonished, because he saw his father’s face. The farmer ran home and told his wife about the magical box. She told him to lie down because he obviously wasn’t feeling well. The next morning, she woke up early and sneaked a look inside the magical box – and saw her mother’s face in the mirror. She ran over to her husband and said, ‘I’m taking you to the doctor. You really mustn’t be feeling well if you think your father looks like my mother.’ The humorous point here is, any sufficiently advanced technology is at times indistinguishable from magic and can often initially be misunderstood. We are at a similar moment with AI, it has captured humanity’s imagination, but we also must think of it realistically. With that in mind there is no doubt technology has the ability to change the world, and in many ways it is magical. But the truth is the focus should be about the ‘now’ and how it can tangibly and positively affect humanity as a whole and people on an individual level.