I saw something remarkable on TV this week.
I will now remark about it.
It wasn’t a “peak TV” show. It did not involve zombies or space or cats. It wasn’t Fargo (though that is also remarkable).
It was a standalone commercial, one of those things DVRs and streaming have mostly protected me from in recent years. I’m not sure how this one slipped through—I probably dropped a donut and was brushing it off when the commercial break arrived—but I’m glad it did.
Watching a standalone commercial is rare enough, but this one was especially unique: It’s a corporate advertisement asking consumers not to fear artificial intelligence.
I think it might be the first of its kind.
Here’s the commercial, take a gander:
There have been commercials that present AI in glowing terms before. Some even try to find humor in it. But this is the first time I’ve seen a commercial try to sell AI by directly confronting how terrified (most) people are of it.
(Caveat: I think this is the first of its kind, but I don’t see many commercials. If you know of another, please correct me.)
This commercial was for Intel, so it’s selling Intel. But like most major tech businesses, Intel is investing in AI as a matter of survival. And at some point, the use of/development of AI will become so ubiquitous that companies will have to promote their use of AI to seem competitive to consumers.
I guess that point is now.
But how to bridge the gap between public acceptance of AI and fear of it? Intel has chosen to address that fear directly (really it’s the ad company they hired, but I’m just gonna say Intel).
Is it successful? Let’s break it down.
The commercial uses a beloved sitcom star (Jim Parsons) with a proven track record at making sci-fi/futurism/tech talk adorable. Good move.
To make the AI seem friendlier, the commercial portrays it as a kind of dopey glowing millennial—he has kind of a Ross from Friends thing going on—who is sad the woman across the aisle doesn’t like him. I guess this works ok, thought I find his spiky electrified hair vaguely reminiscent of wires and circuits. Makes him a hair creepier than he had to be.
Then there’s the woman in the commercial—the consumer surrogate. The commercial gets right out in front of the issue by having her say that the future scares her. Yep, it scares all of us, so we identify with her immediately.
But here’s the interesting part…
There are generally two broad fears associated with increasing development of AI:
1) It will take away human jobs.
2) It will become self-aware and destroy us.
Intel can’t do much about the second one. And the singularity apocalypse is considered to be slightly further off in our timeline than the end of human work, so Intel wisely choose to focus on the human work issue.
But how? The woman in the commercial is a CEO. Parsons explains that she should not be afraid of AI; it will help her company analyze trends, do this and that, better adjust to the market, whatever.
Why a CEO? It might be the only move Intel had to make. From a human work standpoint, chief operating officer is one of those very few human positions completely safe from AI for the time being. So it had to be a CEO.
So is it an effective commercial? I don’t know. It will make people think about Intel, probably not in a negative way, and that is the primary purpose. But I doubt it will make anyone less nervous about AI.
It will be fascinating to see if this is the vanguard of a new trend: companies paying advertisers to soothe public fears about AI.
I’m an SFF writer, not a futurist. But I love to read about this stuff, and I tend to watch for these “new era” markers. It’s pretty easy to spot them in physical tech—every time an amputee uses her mind to move a new artificial finger or an AI solo-pilots an F16, we can say “aha! It’s here!”
But cultural markers are a little harder to spot. That’s why this commercial was a BIG deal for me. It really gave me a jolt. Very few bits of media have so fully shouted “the future is now!” at me than this one.
It suggests that companies have reached a tipping point. AI will now become the product instead of just helping to produce the product, and they must make a direct appeal to consumers to not be afraid.
Now for your planning purposes, here is my list of jobs safe from AI for the next decade:
That is all.
*I love that the cover article in the CEO’s magazine is “The Future in Doubt.” Was it ever not in doubt? Yes, actually, for two months in 1997. But that’s it.
*I think it’s funny that the CEO never agrees with Jim Parson’s pitch about AI. She gives no response and doesn’t even seem to smile.
*This commercial is just one of five or six “friendly AI” commercials that Intel has released—if watch this one on YouTube, all the others pop up in the sidebar. Maybe I’ll talk about those later, but of the group, this one most directly addressed the fear of AI.