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Apple Enters The Competition To Create A Logical AI Icon

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The AI community had a busy week this week as Apple joined Google, OpenAI, Anthropic, Meta, and other companies in the ongoing battle to create a symbol that even slightly conveys artificial intelligence to customers. And Apple has made a punt, just like everyone else.

Apple Intelligence is symbolized by a circle with seven loops on it. Is it a circle with an asymmetrical symbol for infinity inside of it? No, that’s Apple Intelligence-powered New Siri. Or is that when the corners of your phone glow—New Siri? Indeed.

The problem is that no one is even sure what artificial intelligence (AI) is meant to look like. It appears to be nothing, but it does everything. However, in order for users to understand that they are engaging with a machine learning model rather than just browsing, submitting, or anything else, it must be reflected in user interfaces.

While opinions on how to characterize this supposedly all-seeing, all-knowing, all-doing intelligence vary, they have come to agree that the AI avatar should be abstract, non-anthropomorphic, and non-threatening. (It appears that my recommendation that these models speak in rhyme at all times was rejected.)

Occasionally, early AI icons were novelty items like little robots, wizard hats, or magic wands. However, the first implies inhumanity, rigidity, and limitation because robots aren’t human and only carry out preprogrammed, automated activities. They also don’t know anything. Moreover, magic wands and similar devices imply illogical creativity, the unexplainable, and the enigmatic; they could work well as creative brainstorming tools or picture generators, but not for the kind of accurate, trustworthy responses these businesses would have you believe artificial intelligence can offer.

Corporate logo design is typically an odd mixture of commercial necessity, strong vision, and committee compromise. And the logos seen here demonstrate how these influences are at work.

For better or worse, the strongest vision is represented by OpenAI’s black dot. It’s like a wishing well or Echo’s cave—a chilly, featureless hole into which you toss your query.

Naturally, Microsoft has the most committee energy—its Copilot logo is practically indefinable.

Nevertheless, take note of how four of the six (or five of seven if you include Apple twice, and why not?) have happy, inviting hues that are meant to be candy-like. These colors tend toward femininity (as such things are defined in design language) or even childhood.

Four are gentle, never-ending forms with gentle transitions into pink, purple, and turquoise; pastels rather than strong colors; Though both Google and Perplexity have sharp edges, the later is a joyful, symmetrical star with welcome concavities, while the former symbolizes an infinite book. Some also seem alive and responsive when in use; they also catch the eye and make an impact that is difficult to ignore (looking at you, Meta).

In general, the intended image is one of openness, friendliness, and undefined potential rather than qualities like, say, knowledge, efficiency, decisiveness, or inventiveness.

Consider me overly critical? For each of these logos, how many pages did the design treatment documents, in your opinion—more than or less than 20? I would wager on the former. Businesses are fixated on these things. (Yet, weirdly, fail to include a hatred symbol in the exact middle or convey an oddly sexual atmosphere.)

The point is that no one has been able to come up with a visual concept that clearly communicates “AI” to the user; that is, rather than the nature of what corporate design teams perform. These vibrant shapes, at most, convey the unfavorable idea that this UI isn’t an email client, a search engine, or a note app.

Since email logos are (clearly) electronic mail, both conceptually and practically, they frequently represent an envelope. A more generic “send” graphic for communications is divided, sometimes pointed, and resembles a paper airplane, signifying a moving document. The use of a wrench or gear in the settings suggests fiddling with a machine or motor. These ideas cut across generations and languages, at least in part.

Not every icon can reference its matching function with such clarity. For example, when the word “download” has different meanings in different cultures, how is it indicated? One telécharges in France, which is understandable but not truly a “download.” Nevertheless, we have reached an arrow that points downward and occasionally touches down on a surface. Reduce the load. In the same way, we embraced cloud computing even if it was just a catch-all word for “a big datacenter somewhere.” What about a little datacenter button as an alternative?

Customers are still learning about artificial intelligence (AI), and they are being asked to use it in place of “other things,” a very broad category that proponents of AI products are reluctant to define because doing so would indicate that AI is only capable of certain tasks. They refuse to acknowledge it: the entire fiction rests on artificial intelligence (AI) having the theoretical capacity to do anything; the rest is up to engineering and computation to make it happen.

To put it another way, to borrow Steinbeck’s words, “Every AI thinks of itself as a temporarily embarrassed AGI.” (Or perhaps I should say, is taken into consideration by its marketing division, as AI does not take into account anything other than patterns.)

These businesses must still give it a name and a “face” in the interim, though it’s interesting and reassuring that no one choose one. However, even in this case, they are at the mercy of customers, who disregard GPT version numbers as peculiar and would much rather say ChatGPT; who find it difficult to relate to “Bard” and instead accept the tried-and-true “Gemini”; who have never wanted to use Bing (and definitely not to speak with the thing), but who don’t mind having a Copilot.

The best indication that an AI is listening to you is if you see swirling colors anywhere on the screen. Apple, on the other hand, has adopted a shotgun approach. You ask Siri to query Apple Intelligence (two different logos), which occurs within your Private Cloud Compute (unrelated to iCloud), or perhaps even forward your request to ChatGPT (no logo permitted).

We can anticipate that AI will continue to be represented by ambiguous, benign, abstract shapes in icons and logos until the technology itself is somewhat better defined. You wouldn’t let a vibrant, constantly changing blob take your job, would you?