Naming in AI: the good, the bad, the ugly

If there is a wild west of branding, it is surely the realm of bots, machine learning and artificial intelligence. The companies that create these brilliant technologies have vastly different approaches to naming. Their names span from the generic (Bot) to the descriptive (Chatbot) to the suggestive (Android) to the arbitrary (BigDog) to the fanciful (Cortana). And in our opinion, they also span from the good, the bad and yes, the ugly. But in defense of the bad and the ugly, naming within this category can be extremely challenging as these companies have a lot of variables to consider. Let’s start with the good.

The Good:

Braina Virtual Assistant is a great example of a good descriptive name. In fact, it’s such a good name I don’t even have to explain what it is. We like the name because it encapsulates the parent brand, Braina, which on its own sounds urbane yet friendly. But also, because its function is immediately obvious in a category where very little is immediately obvious.

IBM’s Watson became famous in 2011 when it competed in and won a game of Jeopardy against super-champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. Watson, named after IBM’s first CEO Thomas J. Watson, doesn’t just compete in games any more, it is a cornerstone of IBM’s business. The name is reminiscent of an English butler; it sounds reliable, approachable and sophisticated. Watson has helped to humanize IBM’s approach to AI.

OptumIQ is at the epicenter of the health care system, it combines, refines, validates and perpetually enriches billions of data points. We like the name because it incorporates the parent brand, Optum, and IQ is an intriguing yet comfortable means of communicating human-like intelligence.

Amazon Echo - the king, or should I say queen, of smart speakers, is also the queen of suggestive names in artificial intelligence. In a category that is clouded with exotic and sometimes intimidating handles, Echo sounds comfortably innovative.

The Bad:

Dragon Go. This voice-activated mobile app sounds more like an anime show than a virtual assistant. The aggression and mysticism of a dragon simply does not align with the product’s benefits, which are characterized as smart, accurate and fun.

Ubi Kit. Is this a sushi meal kit that can be delivered to your front door? Nope it’s a voice assistant like Alexa or Google Home. To be fair, Ubi isn’t the worst name in the world, it’s the Kit part that prompted us to classify this as bad. Surprisingly, the product is not a kit, it is pretty much ready to go out-of-the-box. For someone like me, who’s teetering on the edge of tech-ludditism, I would assume that this product has some assembly required and probably wouldn’t even consider looking into it.

The Ugly:

Maluuba, a software company recently acquired by Microsoft, has tremendous potential in deep learning and speech recognition. Its name, however, doesn’t have as much potential. The man credited with naming Maluuba said he made it up, really without rhyme or reason. There is nothing wrong with making up a name, however, Maluuba lacks energy, doesn't mean anything without context, and is hard to spell. It doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.

The naming possibilities in this category are virtually endless. Companies must think about either using naming to describe what the technology is, without risking becoming ho-hum in a few years (think cloud or big data) or creating a name that brings a new quality to a misunderstood, and somewhat frightening to the average person, category.

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