Jennifer Fischer: This is not another article about AI

In her column Fischer shows how “AI encourages the child to switch off regularly and explore the world”


It’s a story. More specifically, it’s a “pick your path” type of story.

It starts the same way: It’s a story of child. Her date of birth is 20 August 2030. Aya is her name. She’s seven and a half when our story starts. She likes pink and unicorns.

There are two versions of her story. In the first version of this story, every evening Aya heads home from school in her personal moving unit across a sprawling metropolis. She does not open the window as the air has reached critical levels of pollutions and she would immediately start coughing.

She navigates the labyrinth of advertisements, surrounded by constant simulation with personalised messages delivered in augmented reality across her path. A premium access in her AR glasses would limit the number of commercial messages she sees, but her parents cannot afford it and so the ads pay for her device, which she absolutely needs at school.

Holographic billboards project adverts with unicorns that promote the latest fad of coconut oil drinks and pet robots.

As she mindlessly looks at images of unattainable beauty standards and perfect lives created by the algorithm, she’s inundated with deepfakes – though this is not a word you use anymore, they talk about “alter reality”.

In this alternate world that she experiences in such an immerse and intimate way, it’s not clear whether unicorns are even real or not.

During her breaks at school, she lounges in individual immersive booths just like her classmates. Each are immersed in their own virtual realities, escaping the world that surrounds them. The lines between reality and fiction, between truth and lies are so blurry that no one cares anymore, not as long as it captures your attention.

Everything that she looks at is monitored, how long she looks, what dilates her pupils, what accelerates her pulse, it is all analysed and used to optimise content to drive engagement, claim control over her mind.

In this reality, people have been productized, childhood is just the time during which the algorithm gets to know you and optimises itself to curate your experience.

There is no more privacy. The surveillance systems track her every movement, all is known about her and if she ever risked becoming a threat to the current status quo, the system would predict it and curate the right reality to keep her spirit in check.

When she grows up, Aya wants to be rich so she can get all the things that she sees in this alter-reality and maybe even get a genetically engineered unicorn, a pink one.

Wouldn’t that be cool?

In the second version of this story, Aya walks home from school every night. She loves that walk because the street is filled with grass and flowers, lots of space to play.

She uses her AR headset to remember what she learned today at school. She gets her unicorn avatar Kyra to quiz her about the classes.

But she also loves to walk back with her friends, and then they play with Kyra, they race to see who can outrun the unicorn.

Her AR glasses filter out messages that are not appropriate for her age. Any content that she accesses fits the values set up by her parents.

She has access to well-balanced branded recipes. She loves to try them at home. She feels like a grown up as she decides what she wants to eat, sends the recipe to dad, mom and her big brother so they can comment and approve. Then by the time she’s home. The ingredients are waiting by the door, freshly delivered by a local farm.

She usually cooks with dad using voice instructions and augmented reality to guide her.

The content that she is exposed to is curated to expand her horizons, to allow her to enrich her imagination and knowledge rather than show her more of the same. She gets introduced to science, art, music and literature.

The AI encourages her to switch off regularly and explore the world, apply her knowledge, so she builds castles, she paints rainbows and she even carved a little unicorn as a toy. When she grows up, Aya wants to be a wildlife biologist so she can protect wild animals. Imagine leading conservation efforts for rhinos.

Wouldn’t that be cool?

These are just two stories, but many paths lie ahead of us. AI is neither good or bad. It is only an enabler for our will.

This means that the responsibility lies squarely with us. To learn about AI, build a point-of-view, discuss regulations, identify where our values lie and ensure that the future of our industry and our society at large is one that we build intentionally together rather than one that we just stumble upon.

By Jennifer Fischer, Chief of Innovation & Growth, Publicis Groupe ME&T