Generative, Personal, but not Artificial

Unpacking Apple’s language obsession around machine intelligence

Generative, Personal, but not Artificial

Why is Apple so allergic to the term “AI”? Yesterday’s WWDC conference was split between new OS updates and the big Apple Intelligence announcement. Just like all these articles pointed out back at WWDC 2023, once again never said “artificial intelligence” or “AI” once.

But this time, they did say “intelligence”… a lot! Besides Apple Intelligence, they used Generative Intelligence and Personal Intelligence specifically. They also referred to the other AI companies as “world knowledge” systems and insisted that Apple Intelligence was all about “personal context”.

It’s a classic Apple marketing strategy to pretend that competition doesn’t exist. They famously compare their latest devices only to their own. The whole picture that Apple constantly tries to paint is that they’re simply not in the same playing field. Now they’re trying to do this again with AI.

However, I think there’s another reason why they might be so allergic to the word “artificial” and it might be similar to why they don’t like the word “augmented” for augmented reality. Apple doesn’t want to introduce the idea into its customers’ minds that these are “synthetic” experiences. The idea that they might be lesser, fake, or poor substitutes for the real world isn’t good for their vision to put their computers in everyone’s hands. It’s in their best interest to make these additions to their tech give the impression that they are natural extensions of computers today. Even better, it’s the old computers that were “artificial” and “augmented”. This new stuff? It’s what it always should have been.

I’m not here to judge whether any of this is good or bad—this is a reactionary piece to news that’s unfolding as we speak. But I do think it’s commendable how careful this company is with their language.

Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be unpacking all they have to say about Apple Intelligence as well as all the UX and UI patterns they are pushing. There are some really interesting claims on the new Apple Intelligence website. There are also two talks about new Siri integrations and App Intents that will show their plans to developer workflows.

Until I can say more about these, WWDC 2024 has me thinking about my own use of language. This kind of word-smithing is a good exercise for how I can make bold claims about the unknown while still being true to my values.