Same name, new face for AI

Posted by Q McCallum on 2023-03-15
The old meme of 'man looks at a woman while his girlfriend looks at him' but with 'AI, VCs, and crypto'

(Image credit: Dawn Low )

(This originally appeared as an article on LinkedIn. I periodically mirror such articles here as blog posts.)

Lately I’ve seen several articles like this one, about this hot “AI” field that’s getting all the VC attention.

“Wait, are these from 2018 ..?”

As it turns out, no. Generative tools like Stable Diffusion and ChatGPT have made AI a household name. We went through our “throw money at everything AI” phase just a few years back and, well, I guess we’re going to do it again.

How did we forget about AI in the first place? It would be easy (and not entirely untrue) that we were running out of places to spray-paint “AI-powered” across products and marketing campaigns. But there was something else that distracted us: crypto. Not even “blockchain,” the underlying distributed ledger technology that makes crypto possible. Just cryptocurrency, and its offspring of NFTs. They grabbed our attention and we dropped AI by the wayside.

Crypto managed to hold its own, racking up cash and attention despite all of the scams and environmental concerns. So why has AI retaken center stage? It turns out that crypto was just a little too edgy. Meltdowns like TerraUSD/Luna, Three Arrows Capital (3AC), and FTX convinced investors to rethink their relationship with digital currency and its kin. Around the same time, the generative AI world gave us ChatGPT. And then we had our excuse to turn away from crypto.

(Quantum computing should have spoken up more. It missed its chance. Maybe next round.)

Why is this on my mind?

In a 2021 O’Reilly Media piece called “Rebranding Data,” I pointed out that The Field Currently Known As AI renames itself every couple of years. Each time this resets the hype curve, leading to a kind of collective memory loss. (Or, at least, a collective agreement to pretend to forget.) We get caught up in the excitement all over again, and politely ignore that The New AI is really just a mild departure from The Old AI. The hype bubble never bursts and we never see that long-overdue market correction.

In the article I mused that we only had a couple of renames left till AI finally shed its hype garb and got down to business. What I didn’t count on was … simply keeping the name. Generative technology has given “AI” its latest reset.

I wonder how long this phase of AI will last?