Skip to main content

The internet is a sticky mess, and Apple just gave us an AI mop

A person demonstrating the new Siri revamped with Apple Intelligence at the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) 2024.

If less is more, then yesterday’s AI announcement from Apple was both modest and well, by implication, huge.

Sure, you can use AI to create your own emojis, find the right images for a presentation, or transcribe phone calls, but the real theme of Apple’s long-awaited AI fiesta was the ability to remove content from your life. And I’m not talking about crushing centuries of human ingenuity into an iPad. Apple Intelligence, as Cupertino’s AI variant is called, feels more like a Marie Kondo for your iPhone than a Picasso painting — and it comes at a time that the internet’s clutter problem has never been worse.

The poison and the remedy

Unlike the chabot interface you probably know from ChatGPT and Google Gemini, Apple Intelligence is more of a series of features baked into Apple apps.

It will figure out which emails in your inbox need attention, summarize messy reply threads, and even help you be more concise as you tap out a reply. The intrusive notifications that swarm your iPhone’s lock screen can likewise be prioritized, summarized, and tailored by AI to be less disruptive.

It’s not just about combating the outside forces vying for our time. Even our own mountains of content can be popped in the AI sauce pan and boiled down to a rich nostalgia gravy: Memory Mode helps turn your mountains of photos and clips into a cohesive video with a prompt like “Leo learning to fish and making a big catch, set to a fishing tune.”

Using Apple Intelligence to create a Memory movie on iOS 18.

If it sounds like I’m dismissive, let me stop you right there: I want all of these features. From coupon codes to notifications of subscription increases, my inbox is as messy as anyone’s. And that’s just the beginning of the digital inundation most of us face daily. Throw on group text threads, reminders, plus all the bleeps and bloops from home security cameras, robot vacuums, and smartwatches, and it’s little wonder we need AI to sort the 13th low battery notification on the back door lock (yawn) from the alert that tomorrow’s flight time just changed (oh, crap).

We’ve applauded Apple for giving us AI tools we genuinely need. But it’s hard to miss the irony that AI is both the levee that protects us from the rising river, and the upstream sewage plant disgorging the very effluent lapping at its shores.

Just look at Google. Google Search has become so fundamentally plagued by scammers pumping it with low-quality AI content that it introduced AI Overviews several weeks ago to summarize the garbagescape for you. “Let Google do the Googling for you” is a real slogan, not a new spin on the old Xzibit meme. We’re so awash in content that we need content to tell us which content to consume.

The trash clogging Google’s arteries is created by voracious businesses trying to exploit AI. But you and I aren’t immune. As easy AI tools proliferate, AI will creep into our personal communications, too. Apple showed off AI-powered writing tools generating a poem for your housewarming invite.

A screenshot from Applke WWDC shows AI writing tools being used to write a poem.

Cute. But it’s hard not to imagine that the AI-generated poem is precisely the kind of crap someone else will use AI to filter out when they just need to know what time they’re supposed to show up with the pasta salad.

Which will we end up using AI for? It’s looking a lot like both. And if history is any indication, that’s not exactly unprecedented, or anything to fear.

It’s up to us

Like any technology, AI will be what we consumers make of it. Remember the halcyon days of GeoCities and Angelfire, when suddenly anyone could author a website? As nostalgic as I am for those animated “under construction” signs now, they were a mess. Our mess, created with whatever primitive tools we could get ahold of.

It took more, better internet tools — like early Google — before the internet could become a less chaotic place with real utility. Which is why Big Tech doesn’t get off the hook for the garbage monsoon generated with early AI: The way new technologies are handed to us matters. As different companies rush to AI-ify everything they touch, we’ve seen plenty of cringe-inducing junk by founders who clearly never made it past the look-what-we-can-do phase. And we’ve also seen some truly exciting game changers.

Its approach isn’t perfect, but Apple has been the best so far at crafting AI tools with clear intention. Hopefully, other companies take notice, and help usher this technology past its era of hype and into something we can really use. Because regardless of how carefully some of us choose to deploy its wonders, we’re already behind a slime trail of greedy companies trying to wring every dollar they can from it. And we’re going to need a big mop.

Editors' Recommendations

Nick Mokey
As Digital Trends’ Managing Editor, Nick Mokey oversees an editorial team delivering definitive reviews, enlightening…
Safari just trounced Microsoft Edge’s AI features
Highlights feature on Apple Safari

Apple has announced a round of new features for Safari at WWDC 2024, and there's a lot of AI involved. We knew it was going to happen eventually -- Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge have been trialing and launching new AI features for a while already.

First things first, the new Safari is speedy. On macOS, it's "the world's fastest browser," so we can expect to get some snappy responses when we're searching the web. Apple also claims that Safari can stream video for four hours longer than Google Chrome can manage before depleting your battery.

Read more
Apple Intelligence acts as a personal AI agent across all your apps
Craig in front of a screen reading Apple Intelligence

During last year's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) keynote address, Apple executives mentioned the phrase "AI" exactly zero times. Oh, what a difference a year makes. At WWDC 2024 on Monday, Senior Vice President of Software Engineering Craig Federighi revealed Apple Intelligence, a new AI system "comprised of highly capable large language and diffusion models specialized for your everyday tasks" that will impact and empower apps across the company's lineup of devices.

"This is a moment we've been working towards for a long time," Federighi said. "Apple intelligence is the personal intelligence system that puts powerful generative models right at the core of your iPhone, iPad, and Mac. It draws on your personal context to give you intelligence." The machine learning system promises to enable your mobile and laptop devices to "understand and create language, as well as images, and take action for you to simplify interactions across your apps."

Read more
The Mac just became a true ‘AI PC’
Disney Plus on a MacBook Pro.

Apple has unveiled a significant overhaul of its macOS operating system at its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC). The move -- long an expected topic for WWDC -- infuses the Mac with artificial intelligence (AI) across multiple apps, tools, and systems, revamping almost the entire Mac experience in the process. Put together, it has the potential to transform the Mac into an AI PC of the highest order.

Dubbed Apple Intelligence, the new system works across a host of apps -- including third-party ones -- to take them up a level. For example, Apple unveiled tools that can summarize or rewrite text in apps, such as rephrasing an email response for a new context. Apple also showcased some generative AI capabilities similar to those found in rival products like like Midjourney. Apple's spin, though, is that its system has more contextual knowledge. You can ask it to create an image of a friend for their birthday and it will take a photo of them that you have tagged and redesign it in one of several styles. In this case, Apple Intelligence knows who your friend is without you needing to specify a photo first.

Read more