The AI community has been abuzz today on Twitter after one of its own was elevated in an unusual fashion. Stanford University grad Alexandre Robicquet is a researcher in machine vision who works in the lab of Google X founder Sebastian Thrun. But he’s also helping front a new Yves Saint Laurent ad campaign, with his face — and profession — popping up in posters and photoshoots. Artificial intelligence? It’s so hot right now.
The campaign itself is for a new fragrance dubbed Y, and in a 30-second TV spot posted online today, Robicquet is seen riding a motorbike, delivering some sort of talk to a rapturous audience, and, yes, even doing a bit of coding. (For like two seconds.) Even the slogan is AI-appropriate: “Everything starts with a why.”
Robicquet is actually one of three faces fronting the new campaign, alongside rapper Loyle Carner and sculptor David Alexander Flinn. Of course, no one is saying he was chosen for the role just because he works in AI, and at the end of the day he is only one guy. (One very attractive guy, it goes without saying.) But it seems at least a little bit culturally significant that working in this once-geeky and obscure field now has enough cultural cachet to give a high-end perfume an air of mystique.
Mark Riedl, an associate professor at Georgia Tech who works with AI and storytelling and tweeted about the campaign, says it does seem like part of a wider trend. “I think we are starting to see awareness of AI and machine learning creep into broader cultural awareness,” Riedl tells The Verge. “With all the press (negative and positive) surrounding AI in the press, there is a general level of awareness of AI that we haven’t before.” Although he adds: “This may be a one-off — basically an attractive man who also happens to work on AI.”
It seems, perhaps, that “AI researcher” might become something akin to that movie cliche of the lonely male architect; a profession that screenwriters believe is shorthand for intelligence, creativity, and sensitivity. As Cracked puts it, architects are beloved by the movie biz because they seem to combine “the passion and creativity of an artist [with] the ‘groundedness’ of a businessman.” Working in AI conveys some of the same signals, as well as a sprinkling of that typically-21st-century archetype: the visionary tech founder.
Robicquet’s commercial certainly hits all of these themes, but, I think, AI has further to go. Wait until someone starts chatting about recurrent neural nets and backpropagation in a Hollywood rom-com. Then we’ll know AI has really gone mainstream.