Saturday, June 8, 2024

Is the high tech thrill all gone?

Peter C. Baker, That Much-Despised Apple Ad Could Be More Disturbing Than It Looks, NYTimes, June 6, 2024. The article opens:

If you haven’t yet seen the new and already-infamous Apple ad — the one in which a giant mechanical compactor violently crushes a bunch of musical instruments, books, sculptures, art supplies and toys, turning them into an iPad Pro — then Apple’s executives are probably happy. They’ve seen the headlines: “Apple iPad Ad Is Bad”; “Why the Stink of That Bad, Bad iPad Ad Won’t Go Away”; “Apple’s New iPad Ad Is a Neat Metaphor for the End of the World.” They’ve seen the mocking posts on social media.[...] In response, Apple has done what it hardly ever does: It apologized. “We missed the mark with this video, and we’re sorry,” one of its vice presidents said. Apple won’t air the ad on TV. It wants to move on, and it wants you to do the same.

Yes, I saw the ad. I believe Apple sent me an email about it. When I saw it I went: WTF! The article continues:

But I can’t quite move on, and I’m sure I’m not alone. The ad — titled “Crush!” — is simply too good. I don’t mean that it’s clever, wise or uplifting. I mean that, like many Apple products, it was clearly made with exacting, no-expenses-spared attention to detail. The slow-motion, high-resolution focus on each object’s destruction — the way we watch up close as they bend before breaking, as if resisting the inevitable — has a visceral effect that’s hard to shake. [...] Unfortunately for Apple, “Crush!” achieves every ad maker’s goal: It imprints in the mind’s eye.

What are they selling?

It wasn’t so long ago that tech companies could advertise by telling us about new possibilities. Whatever their flaws, they really were injecting genuine novelty into the human experience: Suddenly you could carry thousands of songs in your pocket, take a decent picture on your phone and instantly share it, make a video call to someone on the other side of the planet. It wasn’t hard for ads to set an optimistic tone; they simply showed people using new products in their daily lives and having new flavors of fun doing it.

This has largely ceased to be the case. We’re no longer accustomed to the Apples and Googles of the world wowing us with new products. They have tried — with the Metaverse, with assorted wacky headsets — but for years now, nothing has really stuck. Instead, there are refinements and variations on existing products. [...]

It gets worse:

But people didn’t just find “Crush!” puzzling or ineffective. They found it gross and offensive. This is because we haven’t just discarded our expectation of novel new technology. We’ve also replaced it with a growing awareness of tech’s aims: the data-harvesting, the desire to increase screen time at any cost, the monopolistic business practices, the A.I. tools that threaten artistic careers. After a decade during which it felt as if computers were empowering human creativity, they now feel like a symbol of the forces that stand in creativity’s way and starve it of oxygen.


I wouldn’t be surprised if tech companies started to internalize this public distrust — and compete to broadcast how well they understand our fears.

It appears to me that the big AI companies are working real hard to assure us that they mean us no harm, that's it's all good, the future will be glorious. Color me skeptical. Beyond that, it's clear to me that they don't really understand the AI technology they're peddling. But they have to make money, as much as possible as fast as possible.

There's more at the link.

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