New AI research shows our world is getting duller and less colorful

New AI research shows our world is getting duller and less colorful

The other day, I reluctantly agreed to watch the latest ‘Trolls 2’ movie with my 4-year-old son. Minutes later, I quickly realized that I misjudged the crazy-haired figure movie. As far as kids movies go, this one was pretty good. It was the final scene in particular that stuck with me.

(Spoiler alert for parents and kindergartners reading this…)

This is what is happening. As the drama unfolds in the Troll Kingdom, the 6 musical strings, each representing a Troll Tribe, are damaged in a fight between the Pop Tribe and the Rock Tribe. Suddenly, thousands of vibrantly colored Trolls turn a dull gray. They all look the same, their colors disappeared.

No vitality, no uniqueness. No flavor everywhere.

It turns out that our world, the elements and objects it contains, begin to resemble the final scene of the movie Trolls: gray tones, no color, flat, everything the same.

Where have all the colors gone?

According to recent AI research, the colors are disappearing. The study’s algorithm tracked color changes over time, documenting thousands of items from the 19th century to now. Two centuries ago, there was a mix of different colors, with black/white/grey tones making up around 15% of all items.

Today, everything is dimmed: our world is dominated (about 60% total) by objects, items, and materials that are black, white, or gray. Not a fuchsia in sight.

Take cars, as an example. Seventy percent of all newly manufactured cars are black, white, or gray. How about interior decoration? The most popular carpet color is gray. The most popular paints have names like “fog”, “mist” and “linen”.

In a data-driven world, everything is standardized because our algorithms tell us that’s what people generally like. Our individual preferences ‘return to the mean’. It’s even true by our beauty standards. Based on data involving ‘average’, when you collect a large group of people’s personal preferences for attractiveness, we end up judging a composite of 32 images as the most attractive.

So much for beauty in the eye of the beholder.

The importance of color and uniqueness for brands

We see this average phenomenon occurring with typeface and brand fonts. In the luxury space, once-unique ornate logos have blended into plain, homogenized black letters in all caps, with no serifs in sight.

Surely Burberry and Balenciaga did their focus groups and market research to justify the change. But therein lies the problem. After all, that’s what you get when you take the data averaging approach: consistency across the board.

For brands and businesses looking to differentiate themselves, here’s a valuable lesson. In his book ‘We Are All Weird’, marketer extraordinaire Seth Godin pushes us to consider being intentionally different, not normal…in fact: weird. As a Google executive puts it in the book review, “Godin says there’s only one thing worse than being average: being average and passing it off as particular or new.”

Data and technology can be powerful tools in the futuristic age we find ourselves in. But when we blindly follow the rule of averaging numbers and use it to nullify our creative power, we put our brands, our businesses and ourselves at risk of looking all the same. I say: let’s keep our colors.

The final scene of the movie ‘Trolls 2’ ends with Pop Tribe’s Queen Poppy leading the stadium of toned down Trolls in a chant about valuing uniqueness. A wave of vibrant colors re-enters the Troll realm. We can only hope that the same ending will happen for us.

Opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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