How Avoiding Using “AI” Can Promote Acceptance

Elon Musk warns that artificial intelligence (AI) could lead to robot death squads prowling the streets. Nearly three-quarters of Americans fret that AI could take away jobs. More than half of U.S. citizens are more concerned about AI’s impact on employment than they are about immigration or offshoring.

So why then do 79 percent of Americans who have used AI products say that the technology’s impact on their lives has been positive?

The answer isn’t that hard to divine.

People like AI products such as navigation systems and home personal assistants because they deliver value. They also offer a certain kind of comfort through the reassuring tones of their familiar voices. Because of this, many people view these products not as examples of artificial intelligence technology, but rather as familiar brand-name tools that they use every day to make their lives easier.

On the other hand, many of those same people may not like the phrase “artificial intelligence,” associating it with some form of inhuman intellect that’s unsympathetic and uncaring about mankind and its concerns. It’s easy to visualize such a computer intelligence taking people’s jobs without a byte of hesitation or remorse. And with science fiction as a guide, it doesn’t take a great leap of imagination to envision AI moving from indifference to outright hostility—leading to the possible extinction of humanity.

This illustrates that people like AI when it’s having a positive impact on their own lives—but often fear it when they view it in abstract terms.

Therein lies a lesson for the flood of companies rushing to slap the AI label on their products. In light of the public’s concerns—both real and imagined—the best approach to marketing AI may be to get away from the term artificial intelligence. While some have suggested renaming AI, a better solution for AI marketers may be to focus on the experience that their products deliver, rather than the technology that enables those functions.

This schism in the public’s view of AI is illustrated by a Gallup poll, which notes that most Americans expect AI to have a negative effect on the economy as a whole—but remain optimistic about its impact on their own work situation.

The discordance arises from users, who have become comfortable with familiar AI tools. It’s hard for people to imagine that the helpful intonations of Google Home—the same voice that cheerfully reminds parents when they need to pick up their children from soccer practice—could someday heartlessly take their jobs. It’s even harder to imagine when people feel they have a personal relationship with their AI products, calling them by their brand names to invoke their help.

In the case of AI, familiarity breeds affection.

Gallup notes that the popularity of AI products is partly related to the length of time they’ve been on the market. For example, navigation apps like Google Maps, Waze, and Apple Maps have been available since the mid-2000s, and thus are the most widely used type of AI product, with 84 percent of Americans utilizing them. In contrast, only 47 percent of Americans use smartphone-based digital personal assistants like Siri or Google Voice, a technology that dates back only to 2011.

Interestingly, people have positive feelings about these products, but the benefits these AI products have delivered are relatively rudimentary compared to the vast potential of AI. Applied properly, future AI systems hold the potential to solve some of society’s most intractable problems.

If 79 percent of people like AI products now—when they are delivering driving directions or reciting a weather forecast—how popular will these tools become when they defeat terrorism, solve hunger, or cure cancer?

Since people like the reality of AI, finding great value in navigation systems, home digital assistants and other products. The key to getting users to accept the benefits of AI will be to eschew the artificial intelligence moniker and focus on the benefits and brand of the product in their marketing messaging.

Hong Bui is Senior Vice President, Product Development for Veritone. He is a software veteran with over two decades of experience leading and developing products for top consumer brands. Hong is leading the product development of the Veritone aiWARE platform.