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From Gemini to GROK, new names for generative AI share the spotlight

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Rapid developments in artificial intelligence have led to a lot of new AI brand names. From dusty to droll to deft, some follow well trodden paths of past tech trends. Others might make complexities of AI easier for humans to process.

On Wednesday, Google added another AI name to the already crowded field: Gemini. The new AI model — which will power a range of Google products — also caps a year full of new AI startups, products and entire platforms with noteworthy or unusual names. Without explaining where the name came from, Google CEO Sundar Pichai posted a video about Gemini and quipped on X about “seeing some qs on what Gemini *is* (beyond the zodiac sign).”

Since ChatGPT became a breakout hit, names of numerous AI companies and products have entered the cultural vernacular from startups and giants alike. In addition to ChatGPT, the new wave of chatbots — including Google’s Bard, Anthropic’s Claude, Inflection’s Pi, Quora’s Poe and Amazon’s Q — have cultivated curiosity around how humans interact with AI. At Microsoft, a whole brand has been built around its AI assistant Copilot, which celebrated its one-year anniversary this week not long after bringing Bing Chat under the rebranded Copilot umbrella. Meanwhile, creatives in various fields have experienced the power of new AI tools for generating text, photos and video through platforms like Adobe Firefly and Canva’s Magic Studio, as well as from startups like Jasper, Midjourney and Runway.

In Runway’s case, the New York-based startup’s name came while building “new kinds of creative tools using AI,” said co-founder and CEO Cristóbal Valenzuela. Since then, Runway has evolved into a popular platform for creating and watching AI-generated videos, but the first version provided a way to “run all kind of AI models in a very seamless way.” 

“Nowadays there are many of those products, but then it was one of the first ever that was around in 2018,” Valenzuela said. “The goal was that: How can you have a platform where you can run models? If you think about it, there’s a name for that already. A platform where models run is a fashion runway, so that’s where the name comes from.”

The popularity of AI research is even letting wonky research acronyms enjoy the spotlight with catchy names for large language models like Meta’s LLaMA and Microsoft’s Orca as well as new AI chips like IBM’s NorthPole.

Another new one is GROK, an AI model introduced by X last month, which the company said was modeled after the book, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.” (It’s worth noting the term “GROK” actually comes from Robert Heinlein’s 1961 sci-fi novel, “Stranger in a Strange Land.”)

Of course, there are still older AI platforms with human names for enterprise software such as IBM’s Watson — which debuted in 2011 and was named after IBM’s founder — along with others like Salesforce’s Einstein.

“The anthropomorphization of tech isn’t a new trend but has staying power,” said Ashley Wood, a principal at Ogilvy Consulting, who added that human names are also disarming. “Naming things in a human way helps us understand the potential behind the names behind AI, but also alleviates fears around it.”

Over the past few decades, each tech era has had its own ethos of names. The 1990s dot-com era introduced playful names like “Yahoo!” that were then followed by novel social network like Myspace, YouTube and Facebook. More recently, Web3 has led to companies having names with references related to blockchain and crypto references like “coin” and “bit.” Will new AI names give any sense of where the era is heading?

How to — and how not to — name an AI

Some agencies are actively avoiding the trend of human-like names for AI. That’s because “you’re taking something that’s not human and you’re trying to sort of make it human,” said Lexicon Founder and CEO David Placek. Since starting the agency 40 years ago, Placek’s come up with names for tech products in new categories that have become iconic, including Blackberry, Sonos, Azure, Powerbook, Oculus Go and InDesign. (Lexicon is in the early process of naming three AI startups.)

Rather than opt for “friendly” or “silly” names, Placek said it’s better to choose one that conveys AI as advanced tech that is still usable and approachable. It’s also important to pick something novel, memorable, noticeable and easy to process. For example, NorthPole takes something familiar and puts it in another category.

“The human brain a little bit on the lazy side wants to be comfortable, but it’s really only interested in what’s new,” Placek said. “…Llama [has] great structure and is a word a three-year-old can use. That means around the world is going to be pretty easy. Alexa is another example. It’s a little softer though than something like Bard or GPT, which, depending on what you’re doing may be really good for you.”

So far this year, 84 trademark applications have been filed with “.AI” in the name, according to a search of the U.S. Patent Office’s trademark database. That’s up from 62 in 2022, 59 in 2021, and 56 in 2020. Meanwhile, more than 200 trademark applications with “GPT” have been submitted, but so far only 10 have been registered.

Companies like OpenAI are already filing trademark applications for future LLMs including for “GPT-5” in July and in October filed for “GPT-6” and “GPT-7″ — all of which are all still pending. So far, OpenAI has filed for 22 trademarks and has received three: One in 2018 for its logo, another in 2021 for “GPT-3” and a third for “GPT-4” granted just last month. As for Google, it filed a trademark application for “Gemini” with USPTO in September 2023, but just submitted one for its new “Google AI studio” this week.

Steve Manning, founder and CEO of the naming agency Igor, recalled his first AI naming project a few year ago for a massive Japanese company formerly called Recruit Institute Technology. The client wanted to find a name to convey its ability to turn convert massive amounts of data into something comprehensible, which led Igor to come up with Megagon — a real word for a polygon with a million sides. (Since then, Igor has also helped chipmaker Arm name AI products like Neoverse and Ethos.)

Just like companies that used “I” and “e” in the early days of the internet and e-commerce, Manning and other naming experts say startups might be smart to avoid AI-related acronyms like “GPT” or “AI” that might feel stale fast. Other examples include the streaming services that used “Plus” or advertising and media companies that used “media.” There’s also the risk of being too boring.

“They’re hanging it all on technology that will become ubiquitous,” Manning said. “But it anchors you in a point in time that’s sort of gone.”

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