“AI suffers from an unrelenting, incurable case of vagueness,” Eric Siegel told BBC reporter James Clayton.
At the same time, Gartner pegged Generative AI in its most recent Hype Cycle as being on the “Peak of Inflated Expectations.”
That combined “vagueness” and “hype” is a recipe for “AI-powered” being applied indiscriminately across just about anything. Wired described CES 2024 a couple weeks ago as “the year AI ate Vegas.” Products ranged from AI-powered pillows to vacuum cleaners to toothbrushes. Anything that uses an algorithm is being rebranded as “AI.”
As James Clayton observed, “no product is too boring or humdrum, it seems, to escape an AI makeover.”
It’s also a recipe for disappointment, as people expecting ChatGPT-level magic discover that “AI-powered” can be just a warmed-over version of the same old thing. In Gartner’s Hype Cycle model, the “Peak of Inflated Expectations” is followed by the “Trough of Disillusionment.”
As Gartner analyst Arun Chandrasekaran put it:
“There is a conflation now of generative AI and other AI that could muddle the field a little bit. Marketers might be shooting themselves in the foot when they advertise something that ends up not being what people expected.”
Last month, SEC chair Gary Gensler took aim at “AI washing” as falling in the same category of “green washing” — making vague, unfounded claims that ultimately confuse consumers.
In the frenzy of hype around new technology, it’s a good idea never to lose sight of actual consumer needs. An application of the new technology may help address those needs. Or it may not. But marketers have a tendency to focus on the product, rather than on the consumer.
One of my favorite marketing quotes is from HBS Professor Theodore Levitt in 1960. It remains a good reminder even in the age of AI:
“People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!”
Here are a few related cartoons I’ve drawn over the years: