February 19, 2024

Sparkles mean AI now ✨

Every few years, we get a chance to witness how a new technology changes the way our written and spoken language works.

In the mid- to late-nineties, the dawning internet age spawned a host of companies with a “.com” in their names. Even though it looked like nonsense just a few years earlier, pretty quickly, you didn’t have to explain to somebody what the string of characters starting with a “www.” and ending with a “.com” means. Of course, if it has those elements, that means it’s a website.

Email was first popularized as “e-mail,” for “electronic mail,” before dropping the hyphen. Lots of things soon borrowed that “e” as a tool to signify their internet-ness. eMachines made affordable PCs. And on those machines, you could send an e-card, respond to an Evite, or do a little e-commerce (maybe on eBay).

Though they introduced the convention with the iMac in 1998, it was really Apple’s iPod that launched a similar craze of products with an “i” prefix. For a hot second, everybody wanted a non-Apple iHome to plug that iPod into.

When the iPhone launched its App Store, names changed again. No longer was a piece of software called an “application,” instead we all dropped the last three syllables to just call them “apps.” And increasingly, we didn’t even have to spell that out – just using the singular shape of an app icon would often be enough to tell somebody your app was indeed an app.

Since around 2009, everything is just an app. (Google Trends)

Streaming services started with Netflix and HBOgo, but eventually, the lion’s share of them standardized to the “+” naming convention: Disney+, Paramount+, Apple TV+, ESPN+, Discovery+, and others. Now we know that the “+” means streaming video content – we don’t need it explained each time that we can find it on our Roku or Chromecast.

Depending on where you live, we all know what a series of numbers next to a $, €, £, or ¥ means – it’s money. Crypto’s boom introduced us to a new slew of currency symbols, most notably Bitcoin’s ₿, which you can use an existing character for, but also Ethereum’s diamond (and even Dogecoin’s Ð).

That brings us to today’s hottest tech: AI. Two things have taken root here: the sparkle emoji and the letters “GPT.”

OpenAI launched “GPTs” last fall, which are app-store-esque custom versions of their popular ChatGPT – trained specifically to be a creative writing coach, negotiator, or academic research assistant. When ChatGPT launched, the public grasped onto the brand equity in the last three letters, which is a little awkward because they stand for “generative pre-training transformer,” a type of AI model, not a brand name. Salesforce borrowed the letters for SalesforceGPT, and Bloomberg did the same for BloombergGPT. Most people don’t know what the letters stand for; they just know that it means “AI.”

And finally, there’s the sparkles emoji: ✨. Overnight, it’s become the de-facto symbol for AI, found in apps like Notion and Photoshop, on sites like LinkedIn and Grammarly, and everywhere else that AI has been crammed into our tech lives. Frankly, it’s a pretty good symbol. It’s abstract but magical. It has a little bit of retro-futuristic sheen, but it’s still distinctly modern. It works in small sizes and in large formats. And most of all, it works as a symbol because everybody else is using it.

Language is largely considered descriptive, not prescriptive. A dictionary is more of a reporter than than teacher – it describes how we use language instead of telling us how we should use it. And that applies to symbols and naming conventions, too. The point of all of this is to allow us to convey meaning quickly and efficiently. The sparkle does that – and I think it’s probably here to stay.

About the Author

Ben Guttmann ran a marketing agency for a long time, now he teaches digital marketing at Baruch College, just wrote his first book (Simply Put), and works with cool folks on other projects in-between all of that. He writes about how we experience a world shaped by technology and humanity – and how we can build a better one.

Get my new book, it just came out.

Read Next

Got it. You're on the list. 🍻
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Ben Guttmann
Copyright Ben Guttmann
Privacy Policy