Skip to content
Subscriber Only
Opinion
Ariel Procaccia

Beware of Geeks Bearing AI Gifts

A lot of what’s sold as artificial intelligence actually isn’t. Let’s be careful to reserve the term for the real thing.

Artificial? Definitely. Intelligent? Maybe.

Artificial? Definitely. Intelligent? Maybe.

Photographer: Leon Neal/Getty Images

Last March, McDonald’s Corp. acquired the startup Dynamic Yield for $300 million, in the hope of employing machine learning to personalize customer experience. In the age of artificial intelligence, this was a no-brainer for McDonald’s, since Dynamic Yield is widely recognized for its AI-powered technology and recently even landed a spot in a prestigious list of top AI startups. Neural McNetworks are upon us.

Trouble is, Dynamic Yield’s platform has nothing to do with AI, according to an article posted on Medium last month by the company’s former head of content, Mike Mallazzo. It was a heartfelt takedown of phony AI, which was itself taken down by the author but remains engraved in the collective memory of the internet. Mr. Mallazzo made the case that marketers, investors, pundits, journalists and technologists are all in on an AI scam. The definition of AI, he writes, is so “jumbled that any application of the term becomes defensible.”