What Matters Now: Crazy Talent

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h1In many ways, unexpected results are what have most inspired my photography.

Harold Edgerton

Just a few years ago, it cost tens of thousands of dollars to book a multi-track studio long enough to record an album. Now any band with a laptop, Pro Tools recording software and a basement have the same tools as the big boys. Same goes for film with the emergence of low-cost, high-def cameras and free software such as iMovie. Yet even though that basement band or wannabe filmmaker have the same tools and loads of passion, most aren’t producing the same level of quality content.

The reason is simple: talent. It takes more than great gear to create the other-wordly guitar of Jimmy Page in the Rain Song. Cameras can’t conceive of the brilliant shots and sequences in Coppola’s The Conversation. Our favorite artist-engineer, “Doc” Edgerton, tapped into a special brilliance with his unique stop-motion camera to stunning effect. Perhaps it takes some luck or a deal with the devil, but what really matters is crazy talent. No matter how great your tool set is, you still need passion and genius to make a masterpiece ... for now.

It may not be long before technology can provide this necessary, yet elusive, talent. Tech tools are becoming more human, and already show signs of possessing a creative, artistic spark. Siri can be funny. Facebook finds friends for you. Pandora recommends music that you actually like. The new Lytro camera doesn’t require focusing or even auto-focus technology - the camera captures it all so you can focus (or perhaps blur) after the fact. Malcom Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule (Outliers) argues it’s not talent but lots of practice that produces greatness in people. Garage Band for the iPad features “smart” instruments that allow one to skip a big chunk of those 10,000 hours. I am willing to bet the next hip hop pièce de résistance will be created by a ten-year old on a bus with an iPad. This is just the beginning.

We’ll continue to see new technologies that are more and more “talented.” Imagine a not-so-distant future where Pro Tools suggests an improvement to your melody, iMovie offers a better shot sequence. Looking further afield, will there be a time when our hit songs, movies and novels are written by computers? A/B tested and updated in real time? Optimized for humanity?

That might be our future, but it doesn’t matter. Even if AI some day rules mass media, humans will continue to produce great art. We will always have passions. We will always have to express ourselves. We have to tell our own tale and create our own interpretations of life. And if we’re lucky, there will be those with crazy talent keeping up with the computers - and telling the human side of the story.

John Vars is director of product management at SAY Media and a co-founder and former chief product officer of Dogster, Inc.