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Benioff Buys a Bulb from Bard

Billionaires are just like us, after all
September 1, 2023
Pictured: A chat with Bard about its biases after it reviewed products in an Amazon screenshot. 

Welcome to Friday, Futurists. 

“I’ve spent so much time on Bard this week, it’s incredible,” was a brand new phrase that had never before been uttered in human existence — that is, until Salesforce CEO, Mark Benioff, spake it into being during a quarterly earnings report this week. Bard, of course, is Google’s LLM competitor to OpenAI’s ChatGPT.

In terms of Commerce, few were earlier than Salesforce to the AI hype train. Salesforce Einstein is the brand-name AI that powers product recommendations in Commerce Cloud, and data insights in Tableau.

As an early adopter of AI in his own right, Benioff used the earnings call as a platform to opine the potential use cases for solving common problems in the customer journey. For him, it came when selecting a flashlight:

“I couldn't figure out what flashlight I wanted to buy, and I was on Amazon trying to figure out what's the flashlight. And so, I took a picture of the -- Amazon picture of what was happening on the app, and I gave it to Bard because Bard has this multimodal capability to ingest the photo and then ingested the photo, and it told me not to buy the flashlight, that it was poor quality, and it recommended one that was better for me.” — Salesforce CEO Mark Benioff on August 30, 2023 earnings call

Billionaires are just like us! They have real world problems — like trying to buy flashlights — something that many on the Gulf Coast of Florida did this week when staring down Hurricane Idalia.

What is omitted from the flashlight anecdote are a number of contextual factors that went into the originating Amazon search: where will the flashlights be used? Indoors? Outdoors? Is weatherproofing vital? Will Benioff be “trailblazing”?

For any search to be satisfied, the recommendation requires context. When we reproduced the flashlight use case, we found that Google was easily fooled into recommending products purely by product features — such as lumens and “durability” — favoring products made of metal over plastic; which skewed to inherently more expensive products.

Amazon’s native UX provides this wayfinding — through search suggestions, filters, categorization, and sponsored brand storefronts. It also shows badges for certified small businesses you may be supporting through your purchases, which may be important for a certain type of consumer.

My further chats with Bard revealed that it has its own, undisclosed, biases. From my chat with Bard (pictured in the screenshot above): “If you ask me to recommend a flashlight, I might recommend a flashlight that is being advertised by a company that is also an advertising partner with Google. This is because I know that the company has a good relationship with Google and that their ads are likely to be seen by a lot of people.” lol, OK Google.

We’re presuming a lot, but so is Benioff: “It was incredible to see that I was once again working with a next generation of artificial intelligence. And that is inspiring me and I think many of our customers,” said the chief executive.

In my opinion, the future is dimly-lit when it comes to consumer adoption of LLM for commerce-specific use cases. Adoption of LLMs for recommendations will require a cultural adaptation to trusting AI, the companies that create them, and also the capital structures that bias their recommendations.

The chasm between our current state of trust in tech, and a future state of trust in LLMs,  makes the future of commerce a bit darker and murkier than we would like.

If you do venture forward, better take a flashlight.

— Phillip

Fake News. Just when you thought your binge-watching session was safe from the real world, Max (“the one to watch for HBO”) has other plans. Rumors circled this week that the platform is testing the integration of CNN breaking news alerts into your favorite shows; though rumors were quickly dismissed as fake news.

Our Take: There just aren’t enough hours in the day to effectively monetize the amount of content being pumped out by streaming platforms. Pop culture is well-aware of the fact. Season 3 of Hulu-exclusive series Only Murders in the Building takes aim at competing platform, Paramount Plus.

Cable news has a diminishing role in society; Tucker Carlson and Don Lemon are both struggling for relevance in their streaming endeavors. But that won’t prevent the powers-that-be from repositioning legacy news brandes as an important part of the discourse — especially by seeding that content wherever the eyeballs happen to be.

Meanwhile, shopping has an increasingly important role in society. NBCUniversal’s Peacock service grew to 24 million subscribers last quarter, an increase from prior quarters. Their unique offering, aside from a limited-run series about a nun fighting an evil AI? Shoppable TV. 

That’s why this fake news story felt so real; it’s entirely believable. Escapism be damned, you will consume from the firehose of news and shoppable products like it’s your job.

Bait and No-Switch. In a move that's so-very-Google, the tech giant has pulled the plug on its Pixel Pass, a subscription program that would replace Pixel phones every two years. Subscribers promised phone upgrades are now left holding the outdated bag, just twenty-two months into the twenty-four month program. The only thing more surprising than Google discontinuing a service is that Pixel Pass wasn’t a messaging app — to date, Google has had more than twelve of them.

Half a Laptop, Full Neck. Apple recently updated their list of “vintage” Macbook Pros, which now includes touchbar Macbooks. Have one of these ancient devices? Have no fear, the tech world has found a new use for these ancient machines. Introducing: "slabtops". Laptops, notorious for their chiropractic bills, are now being split in half for the sake of our necks. But remember, once you split, there's no Ctrl+Z.

TikTok's eCommerce Rollercoaster. Just when brands thought they'd struck gold with TikTok Shop, the eCommerce dream is turning into a logistical nightmare. Brands are reporting significant issues, especially related to logistics. Maybe they should've stuck to dance challenges?

The Yugo of Marketing Strategies? In a move that should surprise nobody, Rolls-Royce finally took a break from their caviar in the Seychelles to sue DTC cookware brand Hexclad for trademark infringement. The brand, backed by Gordon Ramsey, has been sued over their use of the slogan the "Rolls-Royce of Pans." Here's to hoping they have the BMW of lawyers.

Neon Nostalgia or Fan Frenzy? We know that nostalgia sells better than cherry pie, Twin Peaks fans can now put their money where their damn fine coffee is. Twede's Cafe, the iconic diner from the series, now boasts a brand new neon sign. We're just waiting for air fresheners to drop next. What does a twist ending smell like? 

OF's DMs: Not So Direct. In the age of digital intimacy, a lawsuit claims that OF creators have been playing a little game of bait-and-switch. Subscribers thought they were sliding into the DMs of their favorite adult content creators, only to be greeted by agency employees. It's like expecting a Michelin star meal… but getting gonorrhea from gas station sushi.

AI's Playground Tug-of-War. In the tech sandbox where the big kids play, OpenAI has decided to launch its own business version of ChatGPT. This bold move puts them toe-to-toe with Microsoft, their sugar daddy and playground supervisor. Let's hope they've packed an extra juice box. The announcement confuses the tech press, because they’ve already painted ChatGPT as a business version of Clippy.

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