AI’ll Believe It When I See It

June 12, 2024

As someone who’s been deep (trapped, often) in the Apple ecosystem since 1987, it’s very important to me that the company not… ruin everything, basically. Then again, one of the reasons I’m still here is that Apple 2.0 has been surprisingly good at maintaining the basic customer experience even as they became far, far too large to punk rock their way through things like “should we comply with the request of this lucrative market’s authoritarian regime”.

Being a big public company in 2024 does not usually allow you to prioritize “wisdom”. I get it.

As the Generative AI Hype Bubble Spectacular reaches it’s eye-rolling stage — the part where everyone knows how this movie is going to end except the investor class that’s too deep in it now to get out — Apple has apparently assessed the terrain and decided what it’s going to do with all of this stuff

  1. Throw in commodity transformer text replacement into the operating system level (i.e., shorten this, make it “friendly”, etc., basically everyone’s AI-app from early 2023)
  2. Bake some image generation into a few low-stakes areas (chats, emojis, etc.)
  3. Give you a HILARIOUSLY walled off integration with ChatGPT where it literally asks you if you want to send this stuff to OpenAI every single time
  4. Use an on-device LLM to theoretically make Siri less stupid when it comes to listening 
  5. Invest in a whole bunch of non-LLM stuff at the operating system level to allow apps to give Siri the necessary context to be less stupid when it comes to doing stuff

The first three are very real things that I don’t care about at all, and will probably never use except to troll my friends once or twice a year. The fourth one is a win unless it somehow makes things worse, but talking to Siri is already like talking to an old person who doesn’t speak English very well so that seems unlikely. 

The fifth is such a massive, fundamental effort that has so little to do with the kinds of innovations OpenAI, Anthropic, etc. have put into the world, it might as well be an entirely different company/product/industry. Throwing all this under the roof of “AI” is so meaningless and self-deluding I don’t even know where to begin. 

Anyways, the net impact on me as a consumer is… low. The obvious shareholder-appeasement cruft (ChatGPT integration, image generation) is pretty easy to ignore, and Apple’s been pretty good at not shoving stuff like this in my face as long as it’s not an opportunity to sell me one of their services. This isn’t one, and in fact, might even cost them cloud compute sometimes for no revenue, so I feel pretty good they’ll leave me alone. I am most certainly not upgrading any of the (alarmingly numerous) Apple hardware products in my home for any of this, though. I’ll do that at the same rate I always do, because generative nonsense aside, these products continue to marginally improve in generally positive ways. 

Will this make other people upgrade more quickly? I kinda doubt it. Is that the intent? Honestly I kind of doubt that, too — Apple might be just another stupid, next-quarter-minded 2024 corporation like everyone else, but at the same time… they aren’t. They’re the king of the mountain, they print money, and their executives are long-term Apple people shareholders have never been very good at dethroning. So I think they threw those guys a bone (AI! ChatGPT!) in the most non-destructive way possible, and then went on to promote a vision of “intelligence” that is much more inline with what they want to do (the Siri as a real assistant model), but is probably still well outside of their ability to deliver.