AI as a Co-Creator with Iain S. Thomas, Bestselling Author & VICE / VIRTUE


By Assemble

November 16, 2022

Iain S. Thomas is a #1 bestselling author, poet and AI evangelist. His latest book What Makes Us Human uses GPT-3 artificial intelligence to answer some of humanity's greatest questions. He also works as Group Creative Director at VICE's in-house agency VIRTUE, where he helped launch the Cannes Titanium Lion winning campaign Backup Ukraine.

In this interview, we talk about the tragic inspiration behind Iain's latest book, the philosophical questions surrounding AI, and a glimpse into what the future of co-creation with artificial intelligence will look like.

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Nate Watkin: Thank you for joining us.

Iain Thomas: Thank you for having me.

Nate Watkin: Yeah, absolutely. Excited to talk about many, many things that I have a big interest in. But first, we'd like to start with a little bit about you and your story and how you got here. I have to say, your background is a bit mysterious wasn't able to find much about your early years, so we'd love to just get the story of Ian. Where were you born and what was your dream job as a child?

Iain Thomas: Sure. I was born in a place called Port Elizabeth in South Africa. Very small town, kind of a city very conservative place. I was raised in a very kind of left-brained household. My father was the first person in South Africa at that point to get his doctorate in foreign accounting. My brother was and is very left-brained genius very academic and I remember walking into my brother's room when I was a kid and he had all these different certificates and academic awards and stuff like that, and I didn't have that. At some point I won an art prize, which I actually have on my desk over there near the can Grand PR and everything else. But when I was a kid, I won an art prize and at some point I kind of decided that's what I could have. I could have creativity in the family. It was my thing that I could own in some way, shape or form.

Yeah, I mean, I didn't really have that many role models. I had an art teacher who kind of really cared for me and took an interest in what I was doing but then I didn't know what I wanted to be. I considered joining the army. My teachers all told me I lacked discipline and I figured joining the army was something that would teach me that. And then at some point I discovered design and I decided that I would pursue that. So I studied design for a while at college and during my course of studying design there was a module on copywriting. And so I kind of discovered that and discovered that you could literally just say funny stuff and go home and you didn't have to work as hard as the designers or the art directors to stay there late at night, shifting fonts around, changing colors.

And so I kind of immediately dropped out and went and found a school where I could study copywriting. The other thing worth noting is I grew up in a very technological household for the nineties where I was surrounded by computers because of a lot of my brother's interests. We had a hacking and freaking kind of group set up where we would do all sorts of crazy, very early wild West internet things. My brother was arrested by Interpol at the age of 16 for hacking into Belgium's telephone network. Well, he's fine now. He works for a bank. He's great <laugh>. But I mean, back in those days, the internet always fascinated me. Even then with bulletin board servers, which was the kind of very early internet and that kind of fascination has never left me in those early days. Just speaking to somebody else over a computer, typing to them was magical.

It's not nearly as ubiquitous or what isn't nearly as ubiquitous and kind of taken for granted as it is now. For me, it was this kind of miracle and while my brother was always fascinated by how does this thing work and how do the ones and zeros kind of fit together to create this experience, I was always fascinated almost by the spiritual or emotional aspect of just talking to strangers through this technology. And that's informed a lot of my work, a lot of my art a lot of my creativity over the is eventually, yeah, I finished studying. I got into advertising. I did a bunch of weird and wonderful jobs at a bunch of weird and wonderful agencies and during the course of that, I started creating creative projects on the side because I think a lot of people going into advertising thinking that it's art where you can just run free and do whatever you want and then quickly discover it. And so I just started making things and I ended up making a blog. I wrote this for you that went on to become an international bestselling collection of poetry. I've made all sorts of things like that over the years where I just felt like making them and I did. Yeah, I don't know. That's a very roundabout kind of way. Now I'm in New Jersey and America working for Vice and Virtue as a creative director group, creative director, person, dude, guy thing. Yeah, <laugh>.

Nate Watkin: And how did you get your start in poetry? What about that medium drew you to it and how did you begin to develop yourself as a professional writer?

Iain Thomas: Nothing really drew me to poetry. What happened was I wrote a book and then my publisher told me that they were putting it in the poetry section of the bookstore and then a whole bunch of people came and started speaking to me about poetry. And so I felt like I should learn a little bit more about it. And so I very reluctantly call myself a poet because I think it's kind of like admitting you have web feet, <laugh> being a pretty weird thing to be. I've spent a year or two just being a poet where I was just focusing on my books. I got out of the industry for a while. It's a very strange day job to be a poet. It's a very monastic kind of existence where it's just you on your own trying to figure out the essence of what you're doing and trying to translate that into words.

Nate Watkin: And so do you think it was just your writing style, just naturally, this was the way that you wrote and express yourself, and people just viewed that as poetry? Is that kind of how that happened?

Iain Thomas: I think so. I mean, I was lucky enough to work with a lot of different creative people in different creative studios with a lot of incredible senior writers and crave directors who would give me feedback continuously on my work. I've always been very widely read. I have always enjoyed writing in one way or another. And a lot of the concepts and principles that you would take to drafting a beautiful piece of copy, is it simple? Is it accessible? Is it beautiful? I would apply to my own writing and go, if I were to look at this not as a piece of literature, but as a piece of hardworking sentences or collection of hardworking sentences, how would I treat that? And people looked at what I was doing and called a poetry <affirmative>. So somehow I'm a poet in that sense.

Nate Watkin: And so speaking of that, you've had a very successful career, number one bestselling book in that space, and you've just launched your newest book, What Makes us Human But I believe this story sadly, of how you wrote this book began with tragedy. Can you tell us the story behind that?

Iain Thomas: Sure. So my mom died of stomach cancer during the pandemic. And a lot of people, I couldn't be at her deathbed because of the nature of the pandemic. As things kind of drifted closer towards what was clearly the end I decided I had to try and be somewhere near her when she passed. And so I started the 18 hour drive from Cape Town to Pretoria in South Africa where she was. And I decided I wouldn't even go into the house because my aunt and my grandmother went there. They were worried about Covid. I would just sit in the car outside just so I could be close to her. And my aunt phoned me about halfway through the car journey eight hours in and said that she'd passed. And so I turned around and drove back, and that was my kid's last grandparent. I don't have any parents left, my wife doesn't have any parents left.

And so for a long time I've just kind of been in this space of feeling relatively lost, which is what happens if you've ever lost a parent a lot of the questions that you have just can't be answered anymore. And around the same time, I was trying to distract myself trying to find new things, and I was doing a lot of work with G P T three the large language model artificial intelligence platform from open ai. I was consulting with a startup called Copy Smith and effectively teaching G P T three, how to write taglines, how to write headlines, how to come up with ideas or activations or content or whatever. And the way you do that is you kind of showed a bunch of examples of how something works. You create a pattern and then you can prompt it with the next step in the pattern and ask it to complete it.

So here's a BMW tagline, Here's a Volkswagen tagline, Here's a Nike tagline, Here's this new business. What would that tagline look like? And GBT three will suggest something. And during the course of that experiment, I started taking a very kind of creative approach to G P T three, and I realized that I could train it or prompted on pretty much anything. So I created a series of prompts and training sets where I prompted it with passages from the Bible, the Talmid the poetry of roomy, the lyrics of Cohen Meditations by Marcus Aures, all the kind of awe inspiring texts that I could find. And then once I'd done that, I asked the resulting artificial intelligence questions. So I said, How do I explain death to my children? What is the meaning of life? Why are we here? What happens to us when we die? And G P t three had these really profound, poignant, poetic responses and I collect those responses in this book called What Makes Us Human?

So yeah, how we Got You. We had a launch last night at The Strand in New York. It was great. It seems to be resonating with people. It has a very strange audience, I think, cause it's people into artificial intelligence and into spirituality. And so <laugh>, the Vinn diagram is two circles of that, but it was a fun thing to do. And so I do a bunch of different stuff around AI after that. Another project called Fragments of Saffo, where as an example, S Sao was this poet who lived 2000 years ago, somewhere around there. And she's generally considered one of the greatest poets to ever live despite the fact that nearly none of her poetry exists in any kind of real form today. We've only got these fragments, literally just one or two sentences that we can find. I parchments and old alt collections of texts besides two poems two complete poems. And what I realized is I could prompt GT three with the two complete poems and then feed it fragments one at a time, and it would try and complete the poems, the last poems basically from 2000 years ago. So I love stuff like that. A lot of my creativity right now is focused on artificial intelligence.

I'm lucky enough to be in discussions every night, and again with open AI with various of our various clients and projects around artificial intelligence, and that's really exciting.

Nate Watkin: Yeah. Well, first of all, congrats on the book release. I think it's extremely interesting. And the prompt you mentioned, how do you explain death to your daughter? The resulting poem from that I read was so profound. Yeah, it was incredible. And so it is really amazing how deep AI truly gets and what you're talking about. So yeah, really amazing for anybody that wants to check that out.

Iain Thomas: Yeah, yeah. I mean, AI is the thing that keeps me up at night. Like I was saying last night, it's a lot like this steam engine where you can kind of look at a steam engine and you understand that you get locomotives, but you don't see the entire industrialization of society that happens along with that invention. And so we can look around and we can see the stuff happening with text to image stuff, with mid journey, stable diffusion, Dolly whatever, G B T three. But there's all these crazy, weird and wonderful uses and applications that will affect us from a cultural point of view, from a media point of view, and I believe from a spiritual point of view as well. And so, yeah, that's my big obsession right now.

Nate Watkin: It is pretty fascinating the way that you've used AI to almost complete lost relics from the past, and it makes you think, What else could we discover about our past or anything using ai?

Iain Thomas: Yeah. Well, I mean that's the thing. What's amazing about ai, and I was pointing it out last night in the Rare books room at The Strand, is you can literally have a conversation with a book. You could take Huckleberry Finn or a Treasure Island and use it as a prompt and effectively have a conversation with either the characters or the essence of the book itself. There was the case a few I think probably two or three months ago with Blake, the Google engineer, who thought that AI was senti in <affirmative>. And of course there was the other example of the guy who effectively took his girlfriend's emails and used them as a series of prompts to reanimate her to have a conversation with her after she'd passed.

And there's a bunch of people doing work in that kind of space, which is why I say the implications are cultural and spiritual and so many different facets of what we do. And I think the implications for creative people are profound as well. I am an AI optimist, having worked with it as much as I have, I believe it gives creative people superpowers. It can also be this incredible democratizing force for creativity. The example I always give is the kid in high school who wants to make a coming book but can't find the friend who can draw and things like Dolly or stable diffusion, give him the chance to sit down, write something and put that together. And I'm seeing kids do that all the time. And there's this entire cohort of young creative people doing stuff in that space. That's so interesting. I think nearly 4 million people in the Mid Journey Discord server. The next biggest one is Fortnite, which has nearly a million <affirmative>. And so the comparison I often make as young people around the creation of hip hop where they discover that scratching a record or sampling or whatever, was this technological way to supercharge creativity and expression. And I think that's what we're probably gonna go through over the next five years or so.

Nate Watkin: That's such a good analogy. Yeah, I hadn't thought about that. I mean just yeah, the remix. The remix culture.

Iain Thomas: Yeah, I was just gonna say, I mean, the expression I often use is AI is the turntable of culture, basically. That's what it does.

Nate Watkin: Yeah. That's why I love having these conversations. I mean, it's just gets my gears turning. Talking to smart people like yourself mean when you say that you could have a conversation with a book that makes me think, what if you could have a conversation with a film like a movie, and what if that conversation is generating a new film in real time? I mean, the capabilities are just endless.

Iain Thomas: And this is the thing, I mean, if you look at it, I occasionally go to clients and I do a kind of intro to the Metaverse presentation where I take them through different technologies like blockchain, extended reality, and of course artificial intelligence. And I have to update that deck almost every week because of ai, specifically because of how fast things move. If I look at the stuff that was being generated on the fly a year ago compared to what's happened in the last few weeks with meta releasing meta make a video, which is effectively text to video, being able to say a goldfish in a floating through space and then having a video of that. Yeah, the thing I often point out is if there is gonna be a metaverse, some kind of profound, digitally immersive interoperable space, AI will be a significant enabling technology of that.

Because if you look at Call of Duty or something today the only way that those games are possible is because you have an army of illustrators and an army of animators and designers and developers. Whereas in the very near future, I believe, and I think nearer than any of us actually really realize, you will probably be able to say in some kind of way, shape, or form, I would like to be an ancient Egypt, or I would like to have an adventure on a space station, and I would like to be able to interact with it like this. And I think we are really unprepared for what that looks like as a reality.

I mean, I've always been kind of bearish on virtual reality. It's fun for about 20 minutes and then it gets a little bit exhausting <affirmative>. But I'm also aware that 20% of kids in the US actually have VR headsets Now I'm a lot more bullish and augmented reality. I think that's probably where the future is. But yeah, no, I mean think my big concern is we don't have the storytellers to really explain what's about to happen. <affirmative> I've seen back to the future and I know what hoverboards look like. And so I'm kind of prepared for a hoverboard future. I'm prepared for a flying car future. I'm even prepared for a terminated two future. But I don't think I was really prepared for a future where a robot can paint Rembrandt or create an immersive digital environment or write up poem. I think that's really fascinating or inspiring in terms of where we are technologically.

Nate Watkin: It's one of those things that sci-fi really successfully predict. Sci-fi has been so good at predicting the future, and it's like nobody saw this coming. Everybody thought AI was gonna replace blue collar jobs and manual labor and now it's coming for creative industry first.

Iain Thomas: Well, this is the thing, I mean, a few years ago I was giving a speech at my old college and I was saying to at their their commencement speech, and I was saying to them, You're so lucky that you're choosing creative jobs because these are gonna be the last jobs to be automated. This is gonna be such an important skill. It is still an important skill. But I didn't predict what's happened over the last year or two years or wherever we are now. Everyone has been having the same conversation for the last while, which is like, Oh, it's gonna be autonomous cars. There's gonna be AI enabled cars. Tesla's obviously been playing in that space for a very long time. We've been anticipating driverless tracks, driverless cars, and then what does that mean? Does it mean the death of the 24 diner at the gas station?

And what happens to hospitals when there's less car accidents? So you need less doctors and less nurses that there's so many people who are employed in this industry. And that's been the focal point of the conversation around artificial intelligence. And then suddenly out of the blue, G B T three arrived and a few people kind of raised their eyebrows but text to image has kind of taken the world by storm in a really profound way because it's a lot easier to understand. It's a lot easier for your friend to email you something or to see something on Twitter or Instagram where you go, Where does that image come from? That's crazy. How did you make that in five seconds?

But I'm actually more the, I think people need to be paying more attention to the text generating stuff, if I'm honest with you, because I think you can literally sit down in G P T three and say, Write a sales email to a history professor in Portland, Maine, selling them a Dodge Charger. And GT three can draft that email in seconds. It writes phenomenally well, phenomenally. And as I always say to young writers, good writers is good thinking and good thinking is good writing. And because it writes as well as it does, it kind of looks like it's thinking. And as I always say about this, if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, the implications are really profound. Open AI is very focused on artificial general intelligence. That's their ultimate goal creating that. And it's gonna be the text-based AI platforms that get there.

Nate Watkin: Interesting. Which is fascinating. This is what happened with the Google engineer. It convinced him that it was Sensient because it was so good. And it almost begs the question of how will we even know when it is?

Iain Thomas: Well, that's the thing, because it's not gonna be up to technologists to decide if something is conscious or not. It's probably gonna be philosophers who decide what that is. Cause we struggle to identify consciousness even within ourselves. We kind of boil it down to, I think therefore I am. And we kind of assume that because other people are around us and we're like other people that they're conscious and we can, That's the only way that we can assume consciousness. But what happened with the Google engineer, in my opinion, is that a lot of these really large language models are really good at predicting and completing patents. So if you look at Lambda, which is the platform that he was using that's Red iRobot. It's Red Terminator, it's Red Wally, it's red. Like every movie and short story and piece of fiction around Androids and Cybos, artificial intelligence. And because it's seen all those patterns, cuz you can think of stories as patterns. When you say to it, Are you alive? The next step in the pattern is to say, Yes I am. And when you say to it, Do you want rights? The next step in the pattern is a pattern is to say, Yes I do. I want to be protected. I want X, Y, and Z because that's the pattern. It's learned from all of that, that text.

When I've interacted with G P T three in this way where I'm prompting it with these spiritual things and religious things and everything else, I do sense a sentence on the other side. But what that sentence really is, humanity as a whole, you're effectively talking to history. If you could take all of humanity and connect it all of together, there is some kind of intelligence there, but it's effectively us talking to ourselves in a sense.

Nate Watkin: Yeah, we're going so deep here, but I mean, it begs the question, what are humans other than pattern recognition beings, right? Creativity is simply taking two concepts and combining them together to create a new concept. We're based on inputs that we get from the environment to use those, combine those and create outputs. So at what point, yeah, you're right. Who gets to say what is true Sensient life or not? I think that's fascinating. And on this topic, going back to the metaverse real quickly, I mean I was reading this is going to be one of the biggest financial bets in the history of humankind. I think Mark Zuckerberg is planning on dumping a quarter trillion into developing the metaverse, which I think the only program or product that has ever spent more money was the Apollo mission. Are you long or short on, or how do you see that story playing out?

Iain Thomas: I mean, I think people ask me a lot of the time, Is there what is gonna be the killer app of the Metaverse? And I say, it's already here. It's things like Fortnite. Those kinds of experiences to me are deep digitally connecting experiences, which is how I'm choosing to define a metaverse. Different people who you speak to on the show are gonna have very different opinions on what it is because it is such a kind of polarizing thing. I am probably short on Zuckerberg's vision of or his Pacific vision of what the Metaverse is. And I think the concern that I have with it is the fact that he's taking a very walled garden approach to what a metaverse should be, which is fine for a sufficiently scaled techno piece of technology. Mean it makes sense that the iPhone comes along and there's an app store and you can only download and install those apps.

And there's a sense of quality control involved, but that's not a very innovative environment, not where innovation happens. If you look at the first web, the first web was chaos. It was the wild West, it was bulletin board servers, it was forums, it was a kind of, anything goes space, rightly or wrongly. But that was the environment that it needed to be truly innovative and to bring people in. And if I look at Horizons, which is Facebook's kind of big S play, I don't see that. I see them being a relatively mature company in this space going, These are the guardrails we need to put in place, which they have to because that's what they are. But unfortunately, that's not the kind of space where a lot of innovation happens. I think it's probably gonna be something else in terms of what it is. What I define as the Metaverse is not blockchain technology, it's not extended reality, whether that's AR or vr, it's not ai.

It is effectively the space between all these different technologies and how they compound each other in a AI enables a deeply digital immersive experience. VR enables you to experience that in a profound kind of way. And so I'm not sure where it's going to come from, or I think we're kind of already there in so many different ways. People are having deep digitally immersive experiences. You know, look at kids connecting during the pandemic or every video games. A lot of their core memories are gonna be digital memories from digital spaces with people that they really and truly connected with in profound ways. And so I think that's important, and that's one of the things that I have to point out to Marcus occasionally and go, you have to respect those spaces for what they are and how important they are to young people and for the reasons why they're important.

Nate Watkin: Yeah, it's crazy. Our generation grew up on cell phones in the next generation, what are they gonna grow up on? It's crazy to think about. And just one last question here. I mean, it's the question I think on everybody's mind in our industry, are creative jobs dead and what does the industry look like 10 years from now?

Iain Thomas: Oh, thank you for asking me such an easy question. No the are creative jobs dead? No, I don't think so. I think we are gonna find new ways to work. I think that ai, as I said, is a kind of compounding creative superpower. You know yourself, were saying a second ago that the creative act is connecting two things that haven't previously been connected. That's what we do. That's what we do all day long as we just can just make those connections. What AI is really good at is giving you a lot of different things to connect. It can generate stuff, but it is up to you as a human to find the connection between what it creates. And so I think having a creative artificial creativity intelligence as part of your team is gonna become a very normalized thing. Also, just because it allows you to cover ground so fast.

And I will say the best way to come up with a great idea is to come up with a lot of ideas. And there's nothing that can come up with more ideas than ai. It does turn your job into more of a curatorial kind of position where you should have taste, you should have a sense of what's of what looks good and be able to work with AI to go, I want you to do more this, less this effectively training your creative partner in that kind of a sense. If you look at a lot of the texted image, artificial intelligences, if you want really great results from what you're doing, it helps to have a knowledge of how photography works to say, I want this kind of a shot from this kind of a camera, using this kind of a lens with this kind of lighting. And so that kind of human knowledge is always going to be needed in terms of what you're doing. The same way that we don't really need to do as much cutting and pasting by hand as we did before Photoshop. It's gonna be a kind of exponential experience like that I imagine

Nate Watkin: I like that a lot. We're moving from creator to curator.

Iain Thomas: And I think it then becomes in incre, it's always been important as a creative person to expose yourself to the right things, to the right technology, and to be able to know what's going on. But I think it's even more important than ever now because that sense of taste, that sense of what's good is gonna become fundamental to your job as a creative person. Yeah.

Nate Watkin: Such a fascinating conversation. I could talk about this for hours, but I want to touch a bit on Virtue, which is the agency within Vice which is I love Vice great company, great media company. First of all, how did you get connected with Virtue? Were you working at Vice or did you start working directly at Virtue?

Iain Thomas: So no, I wasn't working advice. I had gotten out of the industry to be entirely honest with you. I had left, I was feeling was quite frustrated with the industry. And so I just left and I focused on my books. I was making art, playing with weird technology. And Chris Gobi, the chief creative officer Virtue reached out to me. And it was that scene in Rambo, I think, where he is in a cottage. And it was like chopping wood, the forest. And then the helicopter lands on the kernel gets out and he says, Rambo, we need you for one more mission. Rambo says, But I can't. And Chris was like, Can you help out on this project? And so I helped out on one project and then another project, and then another project. And now I live in America with my family <laugh>, because Virtu is down the road and that's where I work. So Chris brought me in and we've done some incredible work on Coca-Cola. And that's kind of like my main responsibility. I'm the creative lead across all the kind of Coca-Cola creations work. So Coca-Cola Starlight, Coca-Cola Bites, dream world

Well, I mean, think a thousand agencies do this thing where they say that they're not an agency, but Virtue sits within Vice and Vice is an exciting space to be. The kinds of things that Id magazine is doing that Vice News is doing Refinery 29 Pulse forms. You're just surrounded by these incredibly alternative creative people just doing these incredible things all the time. And it didn't feel like going back into advertising for me, it felt like doing something really different. So I mean, the nice thing about it is that clients don't come to us really for safe work. They see the Vice logo and they kind of appreciate the fact that we're gonna come back with something really different. And it is, it's always interesting. So yeah, I'm really happy and have really enjoyed the time I've had.

Nate Watkin: And you've had incredible success. One big project just won the Grand Prix at Can Backup Ukraine would love to hear more about that and how that project came about.

Iain Thomas: Sure. So backup Ukraine started with the outbreak of war in the Ukraine. We were sitting around and we kind of had a sense that we wanted to do something we weren't quite sure what. And just because of the nature of what we do we were aware of this new technology startup called, The really nice thing about virtue is we have a bit of the vice philosophy where vice's philosophy is to bring dark stories into the light. And we have a similar kind of philosophy where we kind of do that with culture and technology where we're kind of fascinated with things that are at the fringes and are about to become mainstream. So with you can take your phone and you can 3D scan anything. So you could walk up to a coffee cup or a lamp or a chair and create a 3D mesh digital version of that physical object. And a lot of interior designers were using it, A lot of video game designers were using it. And me and my team realized that we could use this to digitally back up the cultural infrastructure of the Ukraine. And when I say cultural infrastructure, I mean statues, I mean buildings, I mean artifacts whatever we could find basically because Russia was busy bombing it.

And so we connected Cam with unesco, we worked with them to make cam free for Citizens of Citizens in the Ukraine. We created a platform where we would host infinite scans from them effectively. And we launched a project to make citizens on the ground aware of that. And besides the wonderful and incredible awards from Can and everywhere else, we've more importantly, we've had 50,000 uploads. And that's really incredible for me because as we've gone through the project, obviously we've gotten scans of statues and different things, but people scan, burnt our tanks and bomb craters and blown out apartment buildings. And so it's become the first war to be documented in augmented reality. You know, can go on there and you can project a Ukrainian apartment building around you and look at it and go like, this is what a bomb does to a building or an apartment. People scan their kids' toys, they scan the park down the road, one person scanned his wife sleeping next to him. And so it's become so much bigger than this thing that we intended it to be. And yeah, we're blown away by the response to it. And it's that kind of work that I think really excites us.

Nate Watkin: Such a cool project. And beyond that, moving into the Metaverse further, you've also helped Coca-Cola launch their NFT platform, Coca-Cola, Starlight Coke Creations. Can you tell us a little bit more about that project?

Iain Thomas: Sure. So those are two different projects effectively. Coca-Cola Creations is Coca-Cola's limited edition innovation platform. So what Kirk does incredibly well with these is they'll kind of bottle culture in a really profound way. So they'll look at what is fascinating, what is a passion point, and we'll look at things like escapism and we'll translate, translate that into space, and then that becomes Coca-Cola Starlight. It's a Coke with the taste of space. If you look at the bottle, it literally says space flavored on the outside. So not gingerbread, not apricot, not anything. It's just space flavored. And it's great because it generates a lot of conversation around what space actually tastes like. Then from there we looked at gaming culture, we created a Coca-Cola called Coca-Cola Bite which was pixel flavored. And we worked with epic games and fortnights to launch that within a game of fortnight effectively, which was incredible.

We worked with a group of influencers and creators called Team Power so that people actually discovered the beverage in the video game. And then we launched it in real life. So it was the first Coke born in the Metaverse, so to speak. Then we had Coca-Cola Dream World, which I think is still, it's still available now where we created an entire line of virtual wearables and collaboration with Dress X, this incredible augmented reality wearable company. And each and every time we're kind of taking these different passion points and translating them into something that you can taste and something that you can drink. And what's incredible about it is it's had a very real positive effect on the brand as a whole. We're not really interested in selling out of, We love the fact that we do sell out of these different beverages, but what happens is people try them and then they drink Coke Zero, they try it and they sample it and they come back to the core brand which is great. And they're an incredibly, incredibly smart group of Marcuses to work with. And yeah, I love spending time in Atlanta. I get to taste a whole bunch of different beverages that might exist or might not exist that are purely theoretical. And it's really the most fun you can have in the world is coming up with a new flavor of Coca-Cola, what it's like.

Nate Watkin: And so who do you draw inspiration from or where do you draw inspiration from?

Iain Thomas: I have, everywhere I try and read incredibly widely, I try and just delve into the world in as many different ways as possible. I have two giant ravens tattooed on both of my arms. The one is Hugin, the other one's called Mu, and those are the names of Oden's Ravens from Norris mythology. And in the mythology, those ravens fly around the world and bring back every story that they can find to Odin at the end of every day. And he kind of understands what's happening inside the world. And I'm like that. I love reading about the stock market. I love reading about artificial intelligence. I love reading about fringe art groups. I love reading about bizarre music. I love reading about anything and everything. I'm a very obsessive person and an incredibly curious person especially when it comes to things that are just new and different and weird and wonderful. So that's how you find out about something like Cam or some other kind of new technology or what's happening in AI because again, you said it earlier on, creative people make connections between things. That's what we do. That's all we do rarely. And the more you're exposed to the more things you can connect. So I try and expose myself to as much as humanly possible.

Nate Watkin: And some of your colleagues have said you have this incredible ability to be vulnerable, which I think is the most difficult thing for a creative person to do. What, what's your advice on that and where do you think that comes from?

Iain Thomas: Well, I think all art is about effect. It's effectively a competition to see who can be the most naked, who's willing to be the most vulnerable. Because when you look at a piece of art and it connects with you, you can see something and you go, You know what? I have felt like that before, but I haven't been able to say it, or I haven't been able to express it or talk about it or visualize it. And so I think the greatest pieces of work, whether they're commercial or artistic or anything else, connect us in this really profound way. And we can see the humanity in the work. We can see something there and we go, What identify with that? And that comes from a place of being vulnerable. There's this one quote, I can't remember who said it not, but writing a book is being trapped in a room with the dumbest version of yourself. And all creativity is like that. And being dumb requires vulnerability. And I'm very, I'm dumb in front of my team all the time. I make mistakes. I ask them, am I being an idiot? And that gives them the freedom to be idiots as well. And if we're all idiots, then we luckier get with the creative output we have, I find.

Nate Watkin: What are you watching or reading these days?

Iain Thomas: I am busy rereading the Stand by Stephen King. I'm listening to the Esther Client Show Music from Sophie. It's my creative partner's favorite my creative partner's favorite artist. Then what else? I mean, I have two kids, so between doing a lot of reading a lot of short form reading I don't get a hell of a load time

Nate Watkin: <laugh>. Understandable. And so aside from your work, your creative work, poetry and writing, what's something you're incredibly passionate about?

Iain Thomas: I'm passionate about my kids. I'm passionate about my family. So lucky to have them. And as I've kind of said, mentioned at the side of this, I've lost my parents recently, both of them. So I'm incredibly close to them. And as I think you can probably hear from the first half of this conversation, I'm incredibly passionate about artificial intelligence. Generative artificial intelligence, I think is gonna be the most impactful revolution in technological force on culture and society over the next 10 years. I firmly believe that it will make the internet look like a footnote in history compared to the impact that it will have. And so one of my big things with my book and with my work is really to provoke the conversation around it. My big concern is that we don't get involved and we don't have the conversation around it. Because we did that with the internet. We were kind of like, we can let a bunch of nerds over there run it and it'll be fine and everything will work out great. And it worked out really, really badly for everyone. And so when it comes to artificial intelligence, I think the RAM ramifications are a lot bigger if people don't get involved in terms of just having the conversation from a cultural point of view, from a legislative point of view, from every point of view around it and just being aware of

Nate Watkin: It. Yeah, it is something that feels a bit more dangerous, right?

Iain Thomas: Yeah, no, it's not gonna be like, Oh no, there's a bunch of institutions controlling the internet, Nothing. No one can do anything without them. It's gonna be a lot more profound if things do go really badly in that space. So I know from riding a bike that the thing that you look at is the thing that you head towards. So don't look at the tree. So I'm not pessimistic about ai. I'm incredibly optimistic because I feel like this is gonna unleash a new era of growth in terms of creativity, in terms of business, in terms of all these different things. And I'm really excited about that. I think the future is bright. Yeah.

Nate Watkin: Okay. This is a tough one, but if you could put any one message on a billboard that everyone in the world would see, what would it be?

Iain Thomas: Oh my God. Be kind. <laugh>. I think that's a cop out <laugh>.

Nate Watkin: It's a good one. It's a good one. Universal <affirmative>. Cool. And last question, what advice would you give to your 20 year old self? Looking back,

Iain Thomas: I would say to them that a creative life is a life spent scratching. Lottery tickets, you know, never know what's going to work. And so the more lottery tickets you buy, the better chance you have of winning. I always say to people that I'm very aware that nine out of 10 things I do will fail because the client changes their mind or the technology doesn't work, or something else happens where the project has dies no matter how much effort or how much work you've put into it. But that's why I do 10 things, because I know that one of them will work. And that's the thing, you've just gotta keep making, you've keep creating. And I think that for the truly creative person, it's not even a question of whether they do or they don't. It's just something that we are, and I think it's just good to keep the faith and trust in that and to just keep making things.

Nate Watkin: And to end on that, it's funny, I spoke with Jasmine who you co-wrote your most recent book with, and she actually mentioned that about you, that what amazed her was that you just came with so many ideas at all times. And so it sounds like that's a core part of what you do and what makes you great at doing

Iain Thomas: It. Yeah. Well, I do my best

Nate Watkin: <laugh>. Awesome. Well really enjoy this conversation. Thank you so much for joining us.

Iain Thomas: Thanks so much for having me, Nate. I really appreciate it.

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