Adobe and AI

John Warnock and Charles Geschke founded Adobe in 1982 and named it after a creek near their homes. Decades have passed but Adobe is keeping up with the times. Gone are the days of printed tutorial booklets and limited functionality. The multinational software company now empowers custom workflows. AI and machine learning models have extended user creativity. Adobe is also making APIs available to the developer community. 

Their usage of AI is noteworthy. Companies often claim that AI will enhance their services. But that executive vision isn’t always crystallized. At times, it feels like an obligatory buzzword, rattled off at summits. It’s intended to stimulate press coverage and stock prices. Adobe’s products are visual — image and video editing, motion design, etc. —  and so it’s easy to grasp the practical effects of their AI integrations. 

Media workers can improve, stylize, or salvage their images, after single mouse clicks. Creative teams are being spared from tedious work, saving them hours or days. In this way, Adobe encapsulates the potential of AI, for both established companies and scrappy startups. Will other companies capitalize on the AI trend in the right way? 

“Everything can be improved with AI. Microsoft and Adobe are both some of the leading software companies and it would be insane for them to ignore all the benefits AI can provide,” said Roman Yampolskiy, author of “Artificial Superintelligence: A Futuristic Approach.” 

Yampolskiy said that Adobe understands what it will take to stay competitive. He commented, “I would be more surprised by a company which says ‘we see no applications for AI in our business.’” 

For marketing in particular, AI is essential. 

A DemandBase survey showed that 80 percent of marketing executives believe AI will revolutionize the marketing industry by 2020. An Adobe report showed that 70 percent of creative marketers believe they need to personalize content. The two are connected, with AI empowering personalization efforts. After all, you can’t manually personalize when you have a customer base in the millions. 

But AI can also help with the production of creative materials. The company describes its Adobe Sensei framework as “the magic behind the world’s best digital experiences.” 

A recently published YouTube video demonstrates the power of this tech. 

Ron Nagy, a “senior evangelist” at Adobe, laid out the case for streamlined content creation. He said that ordinarily, he would open Photoshop and complete tedious tasks, one by one. He would check to ensure that each image meets quality standards. Then he would crop the images, create a few swatches, showcase product features, add metadata, and upload the assets for his web team. Nagy derived no joy from this process. 

Although there is fun creativity in the actual photography, the rest can be a grind. Media creators often have to rework their materials to meet company/client guidelines and make everything perfect. But now, Adobe is helping these people to focus on their most creative work. 

In the video, Nagy drops a raw image into a folder. In Adobe Experience Manager, the image is automatically cropped to brand specifications. Image tags are automatically generated, as well, and a folder of swatches gets created. All of those tedious tasks are done by AI. 

“So how does this all work?” continued Nagy. “Behind the scenes, the Adobe I/O Events gateway triggered an event for me uploading an image to the Creative Cloud. This event kicked off a series of actions using Adobe I/O Runtime to process a series of Sensei APIs, culminating in the delivery of my production-ready image to AEM.” 

This system can also score the aesthetics of an image, by leveraging Adobe’s deep image expertise. It sets the bad images aside for manual processing. If a professional media creator has hundreds of images, this can be a major time-saver, ensuring that the images in Adobe Experience Manager are production-ready. With technology like this, will Adobe maintain or improve its market position? 

Byron Thom, a principal at Framework Venture Partners, said that Adobe Experience Manager is one of a few top cloud platforms and its real strength lies in content and digital asset management. Adobe’s AI integrations can build off that. 

Thom is a technology lawyer turned venture capitalist, and he thinks that companies thrive when they combine the right data sets and domain expertise with new technologies, such as AI. The tech alone is not enough. 

I asked Thom if decades-old software giants will be able to adapt and stay relevant. A new startup could come out of nowhere with a program that skillfully incorporates AI into its own, more streamlined version of Photoshop, I hypothesized. 

“I think disruption is always happening from the startups,” said Thom. 

He mentioned that some startups deliver great results after fundamentally rethinking traditional business models. Instead of feeling beholden to legacy infrastructure or customer demands, they explore new pathways that create value. 

“Our investment thesis is not so much whether it’s AI or not,” said Thom. He cited a preference for B2B SaaS companies that have large proprietary data sets and deep domain expertise in a particular vertical. If you have that figured out, you’ll eventually be able to use it to your competitive advantage, he said. Adding a layer of machine learning on top will result in competitive insight, additional revenue, or differentiation. 

Without those aspects, AI isn’t as meaningful. 

“I see lots of companies that talk about AI and they build up these data teams, but then they don’t get results they claim they will because they don’t have the data or the data sets they do collect are not statistically significant,” he said. 

What’s the future of AI? 

Thom used the analogy of cloud computing. 

“No one talks about cloud anymore; it’s just everywhere,” he said. “Eventually, everyone will stop talking about AI and will just call it software. In five years, if people aren’t leveraging AI in their applications, they will be at a serious disadvantage.” 

He also offered a prediction about how this might happen. “Outside of specific verticals, such as machine vision, I do not think people will build new AI platforms,” said Thom. Instead, companies will leverage AI toolkits available on cloud services and then pair that intelligence with their data sets.

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