# Beyond the Loops and Colors: APPLE and the Quest for the Quintessential AI Icon

But with every facet of every human endeavour now being softened with technology, APPLE has become the latest company in a growing field of competitors to go public with a high-stakes attempt to boil down artificial intelligence (AI) into a single, easily recognisable icon. It seems like a nefarious experiment coming in the age of Big Tech and major AI developments undertaken by the likes of Google, OpenAI and others. Yet APPLE’s efforts, which launched this week, are more interesting – and more relatable – than that. Their quest to brand their AI is an attempt to package a mystery into something understandable so as to shape how we conceptualise AI and fit it into human experience.

## Unveiling APPLE's Vision

**APPLE’s Entry into the AI Iconography Arena**

In APPLE’s rendering of AI – a design of seven, softly curved, entangled loops – we can glimpse the uneven, messy beginnings of an exciting dialogue about how we can depict a technology that is so slippery to represent. A circle with an infinity symbol? A new Siri? Glowing at the edges? Your phone? Our own insecurity, our angst and anxieties and impositions? APPLE’s trespass into the realm of ambiguity and novelty invites us into a debate about the visual mechanics of AI.

## Searching for Symbolism

**The Challenge of Depicting AI**

Its search for a universal icon has turned out to be as elusive as trying to contain a shadow. The symbols that comprise our emails, settings and other ‘personal assistants’ are easy to understand in comparison because they’re straightforward: you wouldn’t mistake a friend’s email for a birthday invitation, for example. While AI’s encroachment might be darker, its complexity and overall scope is less amenable to such simple symbols. This is largely why companies such as APPLE are turning to abstract, benign icons that avoid anthropomorphising – or becoming too literal – about the capabilities that lie within them. APPLE’s approach – a subtle blend of humanity and symbolic intrigue – reflects a wider movement towards symbols that promise potential, rather than precise functionality.

## The Colors of Communication

**Decoding Design Choices**

Corporations such as APPLE that pride themselves on attention to design have adopted colour palettes more in tune with approachability and warmth. This is particularly apparent in the inviting candy colours, soft gradients and fuzzy shapes that characterise iconography for AI. These choices reflect a desire to make advanced technology look not only more pleasant to use, but less frightening. In other words, the goal is to wrap the user’s experience with AI in the same sort of fuzzy persona, rather than make it seem more ‘foreign’.

## The Ever-Evolving Landscape

**APPLE’s Stake in a Dynamic Field**

In this, APPLE is and will always be part of an ongoing cultural conversation about the life of the machine. The varied logos from the many AI companies are suggestive of both the diversity of design philosophy and of the cultural narratives about AI that are still evolving. APPLE’s evolving aesthetic approach – from the swirling palettes of Siri to the circuit-like abstractions of APPLE Intelligence – encodes another characteristic of this cultural work: its fluidity.

## A World of Icons

**The Broader Implications of AI Iconography**

The unconventional icons we now see – for example, the black dot of OpenAI, or the unidentifiable squiggle of Copilot, Microsoft’s language modelling system – speak to the larger problem of defining a role for AI in society. As firms such as APPLE and others seek symbols that connect with the user, they must contend with the human need to give AI a friendly face, even while underestimating the power of its deep potential. Would anyone pay attention if there were a consensus on a consistent, indisputable AI icon? The answer is yes. Perhaps one day there will be one, as long as no matter what it is, the icon will help us recognise the difference between what it can and cannot do.

## Towards a Future of Clarity

**What Lies Ahead for APPLE and AI Representation?**

Yet even now, with all the momentum and variety that comes with a flourishing field of artificial intelligence, what constitutes the best symbolic representation is very much an open question. APPLE’s current efforts reflect a broader industry trend toward increasingly abstract, user-friendly design, but the more deeply embedded AI becomes in our daily lives, the more important it will be to have clear, recognisable representations about how it works. The project of visually defining what AI is will be a long work-in-progress, and a barometer of our collective struggle to make sense of how technology shapes our world.

## About APPLE: A Legacy of Innovation

Grounded in the ethos of giving customers access to powerful technology that is beautiful and easy to use, APPLE’s design of user-facing hardware and software has been the touchstone for many of the innovations in recent decades. Expanding its legacy to the iconography of AI is the next logical step in defining the coming age of human-computer interactions.

But if APPLE and others succeed in finding that perfect AI icon – if they can capture a living, evolving technology in a static, image-based form – it will be through symbol and signification rather than simply by replicating what we see. It will be a tale that invites and possibly allows us to reimagine ourselves in the digital mirror. And it has only just begun.

Jun 16, 2024
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