From Fear to Fantasy: Artificial Intelligence’s Bright Side Rises

August, 2022

Many of us are familiar with AI dystopian narratives from cinema and TV. From 1984’s classic hit The Terminator to the more recent Ex Machina and Westworld, people have long been primed for the future nightmare that is “AI gone wrong.” The recipe is simple: 1. Machines gain sentience. 2. Panic ensues. 3. Machines bring humans to extinction. Coupled with ever-growing concern over deep fake technology’s ability to seed false information in the media – see deep fake Tom Cruise – Artificial Intelligence has a clear fear factor that will take a lot of adoption, testing, and learning to overcome.

But AI is no longer a future fantasy, it’s a present reality – and the narrative is shifting toward positivity and play as the tech captivates people with its potential for connection, creativity, and awe. Over 4 in 10 American adults told us that if AI could prevent loneliness, they’d be the first to sign up. For adults 18-34, this figure jumps to 76%.* Though the dystopian narratives likely aren’t going anywhere, a technology renaissance is priming us for AI appreciation – a trend we call Surreal World.

Companionship for a (Dis)Connected Era

Despite the easing of COVID protocols and concerns, loneliness is a lingering problem – but AI tech can help strengthen connection and companionship for a new age. According to our New Normal Tracking study from July, nearly 1 in 4 adults are still struggling with feelings of isolation. And for adults 55+, this figure increases by 17%.** To tackle the issue, the New York State Office for the Aging has partnered with Intuition Robotics to bring AI-powered bots, called ElliQ, to the homes of 800 seniors in need. The ElliQ bots, launched commercially in March, have mechanical heads with lamp-like “faces” that respond to voice commands. They’re accompanied by a tablet, making it easy to make video calls to loved ones. Companion AI chatbots can also be an effective tool for struggling kids and teens. One company, Woebot Health, combines innovative AI with researched psychology methods to help provide real-time support. Schools across the country have leveraged chatbot resources like Wombat to improve on-demand mental healthcare access for kids.

AI Dream Weaving

As more people adopt and immerse themselves in new technologies in their everyday lives, many are looking to AI for creativity and entertainment. In a May music video for his song “The Heart Part 5,” rapper Kendrick Lamar subverted the terror of deep fake tech to make innovative and compelling art. In the video, Lamar fakes his facial features and voice to transform into various notable Black male celebrities: O.J. Simpson, Will Smith, Jussie Smollett, Kobe Bryant, Kanye West, and Nipsey Hustle. The music video has gained nearly 40 million views on YouTube to date. Beyond celebrity artistry, everyday people are employing AI generators for social media fun. A new feature on TikTok allows users to type in a phrase or date to reveal an AI-generated piece of art. Some users enter their birthdates or anniversaries to “predict” their future life trajectories as told by the images they receive back. Will this relationship end in marriage? Only AI can tell. Though the filter has only been around since mid-August, the TikTok hashtags #aigenerated and #aigenerator have been collectively viewed over 160 million times.

Brand Implications

Brands can reinforce the emerging positive AI narrative by innovating their existing AI tech for more interactivity and play. Highlighting the human element of AI to create connection, or evoking awe with its otherworldly capabilities, can lead to impactful engagement.

  • Dream Vac-AI-tions: A travel company can foster engagement by developing an AI generator tool that creates artistic depictions of “dream destinations” based on user input – following up with real-world suggestions from the ‘fantasy’ image. For example, a potential trip booker can input key phrases like “ocean, breeze, and wine&dine” into the tool. This would inspire the AI generator to produce creative artwork along with relevant options for hotels, flights, and experiences in high-match areas.
  • Deep Fake Outtakes: An entertainment brand with high fandom can create bonus content where the faces of cast members are swapped around through deep fake tech. Think of the experience of seeing a move adaptation of a book you’ve read, where the characters you’ve imagines are brought to life with varying degrees of accuracy depending on how you pictured them. Fans of the show can rewatch the series as if the cast members have taken on new role, discuss the dissonances, and revel in the fun that comes from seeing unexpected faces in the roles they love the most.
  • Wellness Companion Bots: As connected devices, voice-command tools, and wearables grow more popular as life-hacking agents, a health-tech brand can leverage AI to improve people’s well-being. For example, an AI bot connected to a mood-tracking wearable can make real-time meal recommendations for people given their emotional state and current smart fridge contents.

Sources: *Horizon Media, Finger on the Pulse. Survey fielded 5/31/22-6/9/22, n=986; **Horizon Media, Finger on the Pulse New Normal Tracker. Survey Fielded 7/7/2022-7/10/2022, n=958

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