AI got a week closer to becoming an evermore constant and controlling presence in our lives, and we’re upset about a TV ad?

Apple’s new iPad ad depicted an industrial press smushing a piano, paint cans, and other creative and productivity tools into its newest iPad. “Crush!” was intended to show all the things you could do with its new gizmo.

Instead, many in the creative industry were offended. Actor Hugh Grant said that the ad portrayed “the destruction of the human experience,” and others echoed the sentiment.

A slew of marketing and branding experts weighed in that Apple had lost its way as a brand leader, and that the uncharacteristically negative spot had unofficially started its decline.

Apple apologized the next day, saying it had “…missing the mark with this video, and we’re sorry.”

I wonder if the pushback is about more than an ad?

The ad works

Ads are intended to capture our attention and get us to do something. That means like 99.9% of them fail, usually because they’re funny or shocking but don’t give us any reason to act. Just think back to all of those marvelous ads you saw on this year’s Super Bowl; did any of them prompt you to do anything afterwards that involved spending money?

I didn’t think so.

“Crush!” earned boatloads of attention for a new product (which is every marketers’ dream). It has probably re-energized iPad’s position at the top of people’s lists when they think about tablet devices. Traffic to Apple’s website has likely spiked. We’ll see if sales over the next few quarters reflect any consequences of that awareness.

My bet is that they will.

The ad is accurate

Contrary to the bluster of creatives, no creatives were harmed in the production of the spot. The tools of creativity get smushed into an iPad, not people, and the depiction is entirely accurate, if not overly visceral. Many critics got this wrong, too.

I remember a time when movies were edited by physically snipping and gluing film and monsters were guys wearing uncomfortable costumes. There’s nothing inherently wrong with using tech to do things faster, more convincingly, and at far less expense, and the creative industry has been benefiting from new tech for decades.

As a musician, this innovation has been true gift: I now possess more recording capabilities in my laptop than the Beatles could access at Abbey Road. If only the tech boffins could invent a way for me to possess more talent…

…and there’s the rub.

AI is coming for you

Some critics saw the ad as an unintended portrayal of the battle between creatives and tech distribution platforms for control over copyright. There’s an even bigger issue of big tech determining what we see or don’t see in ways that would make old-fashioned tyrants and propagandists kvell.

Apple plays no small role in these conflicts and it’s squarely on the side of its own financial interests. Remember late last year when Jon Stewart’s Apple TV show didn’t get renewed because he intended to talk about AI and China. More recently, a UK news group is fighting back against Apple’s rumored plans to enable its Safari browser to erase ads.

But the even greater threat beyond those great threats is that Apple plans to invent AIs that don’t just help us do our jobs, but take them away.

I won’t become a better musician. AI will become the musician.

It’s the Big Secret of AI that isn’t a secret. Every company that is building AIs talks about increasing AIs’ capabilities (and getting even richer thereby), and every company that expects to benefit from using it will do so by replacing human employees and their workflows with AI-led tools.

Management consultancies sing the praises of this great transformation. Employing less people to produce more has been the secret to industrialization since the first looms put folks out of work. AI will turbocharge that shift.

Where’s the pushback to this revolution that will impact all of us? Where are the public hearings on what AI could do to employment? Why aren’t trade unions throwing down the gauntlet on protecting jobs before they go away? Where are the social and religious communities and the debates about what AI means for our social contract and sense of human uniqueness?

Why aren’t activists marching in the streets demanding that we get more involvement and agency in deciding if, and not just how and when, AI will assume greater and greater control of our lives?


Well, at least there was a reaction to the Apple ad. A flurry of statements on social media and a round of articles followed by a corporate mea culpa that will be soon forgotten along with the ad itself. A few hours of attention in another week of AI’s relentless progress.

But maybe it touched a nerve?

Maybe we don’t want our lives smushed into a tech device?

Maybe it’s not just a bad ad…but a bad idea?

[This essay originally appeared at Spiritual Telegraph]