Jumping Onto Artificial Intelligence Bandwagon? Here’s How to Name Your AI Chatbot | Opinion

Jumping Onto Artificial Intelligence Bandwagon? Here’s How to Name Your AI Chatbot

If users are to become comfortable with artificial intelligence (AI), its brand needs to evoke a sense of helpfulness and reliability. And it needs to have a hard consonant sound. “Gary,” anyone?

| Updated on: Feb 14 2024, 07:08 IST
Artificial intelligence
Know how AI models get their name. (Pixabay)
Artificial intelligence
Know how AI models get their name. (Pixabay)

Had he known ChatGPT was going to change the world, Sam Altman said last year, he would have spent more time considering what to call it. “It's a horrible name, but it may be too ubiquitous to ever change,” he told comedian Trevor Noah during a podcast. Naming any technology is difficult, but artificial intelligence (AI) is doubly so. It has to evoke a sense of the cutting edge, be at once both sophisticated and safe, perhaps even friendly. A good name leaves room for the technology to grow and change without rendering its moniker obsolete or inaccurate. On top of all this, it has to sound cool.

All these thoughts were presumably reverberating around Google's Mountain View headquarters recently when the company decided it would ditch “Bard,” the name it had given its ChatGPT competitor, and instead bring together all of its AI tools under the name “Gemini.”

I quite liked Bard. Something that takes the work done by countless others and rewrites it as its own seemed appropriately Shakespearean to me. But it doesn't scream cutting edge, and Google's AI is about much more than just writing. Gemini scores points for versatility, but as a result lacks a certain deal of punch. What or who is a Gemini? It could easily be the name of some middle-of-the-road hatchback. (Oh, wait, it was.)

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Still, Gemini at least signals a departure from Google wanting to name AI-powered assistants after itself. When it introduced its voice-controlled Google Assistant, it insisted users address it with “OK Google.” How obnoxious, I wrote at the time, to expect users to say out loud the name of a giant corporation to turn off a light. One time, at a party, I suggested to a cornered Google executive that they should instead rename it “Larry,” after Larry Page, Google's co-founder.

Larry, I offered, was a name we (mostly) associate with friendliness — a key trait you would want. But for an AI, this executive explained, Larry is flawed: It helps greatly to have hard consonant sounds that are easy for a voice assistant to pick up. The hard G in Google is good, as is the “lex” of Amazon.com Inc.'s Alexa. 

Altman was right about ChatGPT. Unimaginative, utilitarian — it's no surprise that when Microsoft began integrating OpenAI's technology into its products, it quickly sought something else. At first, internally, it called its AI bot “Sydney,” though that was shelved in favor of “Bing AI” for launch. Microsoft now refers to much of its AI suite as “Copilot” — as blasted to the world over the weekend in a Super Bowl ad. 

Unless you go down the route of anthropomorphism, Copilot is probably as good as it gets. It does a great job of encapsulating both the power and limitations. It's not Pilot, or Autopilot, but Copilot — a sophisticated and trained helper that won't achieve much without you. Similar thinking had a hand in the naming of one of the early pioneering AI systems, IBM's Watson. Ahead of its 2011 unveiling, company executives had considered naming the project “Sherlock” but felt it important to emphasize that Watson's capabilities were more like the meticulous assistant than the unpredictable genius.

The question of anthropomorphism is important. Companies seeking to reassure users, and to encourage them to use natural language when engaging, find giving a bot a human face helps. Anthropic, the AI company founded by a group that splintered off from OpenAI, named its bot Claude. Spokeswoman Sally Aldous told me they wanted to buck the trend of AI assistants having female-sounding names like Alexa.(1) Claude offers a friendly familiarity — a helpful man, probably old, probably wise. It isn't voice-powered yet, but the hard “Cl”  and “D” sounds will make it ideal if and when the time comes. And, importantly, there aren't too many human Claudes out in the world today. US census data says it hasn't been in the top 200 boys names since the 1940s.

But Claude does have limits. If AI is to one day do the heavy lifting tasks we would rather not do ourselves, I'm not sure I could bring myself to pile that burden onto an old man, even one made of computer code. No, what we need is something else. We know our list of qualities. It needs to be short. It needs to be familiar, but not popular — at least not in the past, say, 20 years. It should maybe be a man's name, unless we want to prop up outdated perceptions of gender roles, which we don't. It needs to evoke a sense of helpfulness and reliability. And it needs to have a hard consonant to make it easier for microphones to pick up if we want to control it by voice.

It's Gary. Gary is the ultimate name for an AI bot. Garys are the great mechanics, the painters and decorators, the window cleaners and electricians of the world. If you ask a Gary to go and do you a favor, by god he'll get it done well. Garys are creative — think songwriter Barlow — and versatile, think actor Sinise. And the name — which has a solid hard G — is on the verge of extinction, so they say, and I'm confident the remaining Garys won't mind sharing their name with an AI. That's just the kind of guys they are.

And if we can't stop this technology from eventually destroying the world, let's at least give ourselves a laugh. “Annihilation at the hands of a rogue AI?” we might think to ourselves in those final moments. “Classic Gary.” Look, Google, I'm just saying consider it.

(1) Some have also said Apple's Siri is feminine — though that one feels a little more gender neutral to me. Indeed, the default Siri voice in the UK at launch was a voice-over artist named Jon Briggs. He once told me he had been unaware that Apple had used his voice until he heard it come out of the latest iPhone during a live demo on on a breakfast TV news show.

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First Published Date: 14 Feb, 07:08 IST