Coming Soon: You are the Ad

Avi Bar-Zeev
3 min readApr 10, 2023

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Meta CTO Andrew Bosworth told us recently that using AI for advertising, generative AI that is, will be a top priority for this year. What’s the concern?

It’ll start with simple product placements. That can of Coke in your instagram photo will somehow become a Pepsi. A car you like may be inserted onto an empty spot on the street. It’s harmless, right?

We know that using actors or models that resemble you increases the effectiveness of ads. Next, we’ll see the people in the ads look as much like you as the advertisers want, using deepfake generative AI.

Then there’s a question of using your friends or perhaps some people you’re known to be attracted to (or both) in hyper personalized ads that try to push your emotional buttons: envy, attraction, fear of loss or missing out, false promises of happiness that most products can’t deliver.

Adding smart glasses with eye tracking and world-facing cameras can give such companies even more information about what you like and feel about whatever you see in the world. If you liked a handbag someone was carrying, you’ll get an automatic reminder to buy. Are you still good with it?

Next, consider if you were ever moved by “signs from the universe” at the right time and place to make a hard decision one way or the other. If the system thinks you’re interested in a particular car, you’ll get “serendipitous” hints in the form of your music playlist, images of your dream car inserted throughout your day, and even conversational agents you encounter may innocently talk up the value of owning a car and how cheap it can be in terms of low monthly payments. It’s all connected at the back end, like a themepark with multiple restaurants but only one common kitchen.

For political ads, like we saw with Cambridge Analytica using mere spreadsheets, future AI-driven ads can be used to get people to vote for or against a candidate, or not vote at all. Of course, all this persuasion will also be used to keep you hooked and attentive to the service.

How much worse can it get?

Have you ever seen a magician fool audience members and/or steal their stuff during a show? We are all susceptible to deep psychological influences that may bypass our cognitive filters. Ad-block won’t be enough when you and the world around you become the ad.

See this paper Brittan Heller and I wrote in 2021:

At this point, we’re going to need regulation or legislation. But the good news is we can craft it such that we separate advertising from our personal data. We want personal data products that actually help us and make our lives better. Unfortunately, advertising using this data is a bottomless pit.

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Avi Bar-Zeev

XR Pioneer (30+ years), started/helped projects at Microsoft (HoloLens), Apple, Amazon, Keyhole (Google Earth), Linden Lab (Second Life), Disney (VR), XR Guild