Mark Zuckerberg out-robots his AI robot in saccharine holiday video

Mark Zuckerberg

It’s been a horrible year for Facebook and the world, but that hasn’t stopped Mark Zuckerberg from sending a saccharine digital Christmas (sorry, non-denominational holiday season) card, in the form of a two-minute video, showcasing his perfect life.

Soundtracked by plinky-plonky music, Zuck presents a simple AI called “Jarvis” (named after Iron Man’s butler) that he’s spent about 100 hours this year programming. Jarvis, who is voiced in the video by Morgan Freeman, is the virtual assistant the Facebook CEO set out to build as a personal challenge that would help him understand the state of artificial intelligence.

As we sweep through Zuckerberg’s enormous, minimalist home, we witness Jarvis provide calendar briefings, entertain Zuck’s daughter Max in Mandarin, identify and let people into his home, control the lights and play music. There are smiles and tickles and popcorn interspersed with on-brand messaging about Messenger bots, internet drones and conference calls. It’s a two-minute, unsolicited humblebrag with a hammy script and a stilted, dead-eyed delivery that makes you question whether Mark or Jarvis is the robot. (At one point he eats an unbuttered piece of toast straight from the toaster. What kind of human does this?)

In releasing this video, Mark Zuckerberg has become Jenny from high school who sends professionally shot holiday cards featuring her husband Chip and their two adorable children all wearing Santa hats and holding large carved oak letters that spell out “blessed”.

Inside, there’s a round-robin newsletter: “Chloe is showing a real affinity for ballet (more good toes than naughty toes!) while Tucker is reading well above grade level – who knew eight-year-olds would enjoy Dostoevsky?!” By meticulously choreographing a pastiche of domestic bliss and quirky invention, Zuck’s “people” appear to be trying to shift the attention away from 2016’s tribulations.

This is Zuckerberg the tinkerer and family man, not the guy accused of building algorithms that played a role in the US presidential election. Unfortunately, the performance is as wooden as Jenny’s letters.

Then there are the jokes, which we should probably call “fake jokes”. They look like jokes and are delivered like jokes, but they are devoid of real joke content. The Guardian understands that some of these so-called “jokes” were produced by entrepreneurial Macedonian teenagers. At one point Mark asks Jarvis to “play us some good Nickelback songs” and Jarvis responds: “I’m sorry, Mark, I’m afraid I can’t do that.” Ooh, we think, a 2001: A Space Odyssey reference. Perhaps Jarvis has turned evil? But no, Jarvis waits a beat before telling Mark that their are no good Nickelback songs – a punchline that’s about as edgy as a satsuma.

“In case it’s not clear, this is meant to be a fun summary and not a live demo,” said Zuckerberg in a comment immediately after posting the video – a clarification that was simultaneously helpful for those who failed to spot the “fun” while siphoning off any remaining dregs of fun for those who did.

If we were to suggest a personal challenge for 2017, it would be to refrain from making any more “fun” videos.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Olivia Solon in San Francisco, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 20th December 2016 21.48 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010