Will Zuckerberg’s AI Assistant Be A Butler Or A Broker?

January 28, 2016

Musings of a Not-So-Mad Woman In Advertising Chapter 10

Those of you who keep up with such things may have heard that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s New Year’s Resolution for 2016 is to, and I quote: “build an AI butler like J.A.R.V.I.S. from Iron Man.”

While that would sound like an amusing and easily disregarded quip from the mouths of most people, the fact is that Mr. Zuckerberg clearly has the ambition and the resources to achieve whatever he sets his mind to.

So, if I’m honest, my initial reaction to his grand announcement was: “About bloody time too.” I really can’t be alone in being incomprehensible to the frequently silly Siri. In fact, I’m very much in agreement with the star of IBM’s classic commercial, in which Avery Brooks laments: “It’s the year 2000. But where are the flying cars? I WAS PROMISED FLYING CARS!”

Certainly, plenty of ‘futuristic’ notions such as driverless cars and parcel deliveries by drone are now with us, albeit in the fledgling stages of usefulness. But neither of these, let’s be honest, has the must-have appeal of a flying car or a properly functional robot butler. As long as, of course, it’s programmed to buttle on my behalf, not act as a broker for somebody else.

Will Robot Butlers Do As They’re Told, Or Tell Us What To Do?

While Tony Stark aka Iron Man has a robot butler that exists exclusively to do his bidding, the big question surrounding the future of all AI assistants is: to what extent will they facilitate our wishes, rather than the commercial demands of the brands that built them?

To put it another way, if I want a restaurant booking, will my Facebook brand robot butler - or ‘Son of Zucky’ as I intend to call him - reflect on my love of French cuisine while giving due consideration to the problem of parking in Bristol before it makes that call; or will it simply get me a table with the brand affiliate chain that offers the biggest kickback to Facebook?

Some people may welcome the chance to make fewer time-consuming decisions – in this world of limitless choice in the matter of everything from TV channels to takeaway food – but, speaking for myself, I’m frankly not keen to envisage a future where subjective decisions are made for me.

So Will Robot Butlers Serve Us All Up On A Silver Salver?

It may seem like so much pie in the sky to some, but I believe it’s fairly plausible that in 20-30 years time we will all have become dependent upon AI assistants, if not actual robot butlers, in order to get through our daily lives.

I might also venture to suggest that as economic giants like Amazon and Netflix have ventured far beyond their original remits to become big-time producers of films and TV series, they are exactly the sort of organisations that are likely to have their own versions of J.A.R.V.I.S., which acronym, for the film buffs amongst you, stands for Just A Rather Very Intelligent System. I kid you not…

But while I’m in a predictive mood - it occurs to me that no-one needs two robot butlers, do they? So exactly what kind of brokerage and deal-making would be going on behind the scenes? Would my robot butler of choice actually be a corporate stooge for Apple, Amazon, Facebook or whoever programmed its commercially-minded AI interface? Would it limit my choice by buying mainly the products and services offered by its own makers; or even enable other providers to bid for my business based on the level of commission its manufacturer would receive?

Perhaps even more chillingly, if all of Hollywood’s dystopian dreams came to fruition, in the future there might be such complete corporate rationalisation that there was only one brand of robot butler to choose from.

Although, in fairness, I can probably live with that, just as long as the most worrying concept from the 1993 blockbuster Demolition Man doesn’t also come true: namely that the planet’s last surviving restaurant chain in 2032 is Taco Bell.

Jessica Ellis - Business Development Director