What 2019’s Super Bowl Ads Told Us: The Robots Are Coming

A tiny businessman stands in a side view and lifts his hand to touch a giant robotic arm. Getting to know new things. Current technologies in business. Greet modern inventions. (A tiny businessman stands in a side view and lifts his hand to touch a gi

Ahh, the Super Bowl; America’s annual apotheosis of not just its most popular sport, but its love for consumerism and advertising, conveniently packaged into entertaining, minute-long bites. And while many viewers admittedly tune in to the game just for the commercials, this year’s batch seemed to have a distinct undertone noticed not just by our ever-skeptical friends in the conspiracy realm, but also by the average viewer. Viewers who found themselves asking, “what was up with all the creepy, dystopian robot and A.I. references?”

Before we even made it to the halftime show, the theme on every advertiser’s mind became quickly apparent – A.I.’s ubiquity is nigh, for better or worse.

Some ads played on our anxieties, like the one for a smart home security system that showed a montage of the daily fear-mongering we see in media and tech. Sadly, this one wasn’t even that exaggerated, touching on our collective uncertainty toward topics such as robot automation, drones, and social media.

Others oddly tried to elicit a sense of empathy for the sentient robots assumed to become ingrained in our society in the near future. Pringles played on this sentiment with a robot assistant chiming in to drop some probability on our inferior human minds, just as quickly feeling sorry for itself for never being able to enjoy the thousands of different Pringles’ flavor combos.

Another commercial showed a robot capable of outdoing humans at every task, until it came time to enjoy a nice cold brew. Ha, you can’t take everything from us, dumb robots.

And a third attempted to tug on our sympathetic heart strings for an innocent, childlike cyborg, who couldn’t become an accountant because he didn’t have the emotional capacity – poor little guy.


But what was the reason for this pervasive theme, goading us to show some respect for these hypothetical machines, when we already have such difficulties doing so within our own species? Are the robots already sentient? Are they already subliminally controlling advertising narratives, while they plot their physical takeover? Nice try bots, but we’re not that naïve – are we?

And then there was Amazon’s all too relevant, self-deprecating, and eerily prescient commercial about the imagined ideations of what Alexa could have been, but instead went horribly wrong. The commercial was cute when Harrison Ford’s dog ordered itself a truckload of kibbles, but became jarringly real when it accidentally took down the power grid. Whoops!

Of course, these were all jokes meant to produce a few not-so-cheap laughs, and definitely not predictive programming getting us used to a future in which A.I. has its tentacles reaching into every aspect of our lives. The future doesn’t hold a world rife with artificially intelligent robots yearning to be better than us and vying to experience everything that makes us human. It’s still a joke, right?


For more on the rise of A.I. and its looming impact on society check out this episode of Deep Space:

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A.I. and the Future of Humanity

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