It must be something about companies with initials for names since both IBM and BMW are producing “smarter” products. In fact, IBM, which always has grand plans, wants to make the entire planet smarter.
Smart, as an adjective, typically means having a good intelligence, such as saying a straight-A student is smart. In a less formal way, smart is often used as a way to describe something that is sharp or impressive in appearance, as in He’s a smart dresser.
IBM and BMW are not talking about the sharpness of their products; they’re talking about the intelligence of their products, trying to correlate them with a product that can do more, be less ecologically damaging, or be safer as something that’s smarter than something that can’t. The problem, of course, is that inanimate objects can’t be smart or stupid.
Large corporations certainly know this, but they consider it to be a good marketing gimmick. IBM claims to be making smarter utilities (My electricity is smarter than your electricity), smarter traffic (I was in a brilliant traffic jam the last time I drove to New York City), smarter food (I guess it knows how to cook itself), and smarter infrastructure (Roads that fix their own potholes?)
All I’m saying is that it’s a good thing that I don’t work in marketing.
That should read: “That’s awfully literalist. In each case, the system being made smarter (i.e., utilities, traffic, food) functions as synecdoche for the people (i.e., scientists, engineers, farmers) who administer the systems.”
Reply from Paul: Yes, I know that’s their intention; however, it’s also their intention to make it seem as if the products, themselves, are smarter.
It’s called a personification. They are used frequently in advertising along with other kinds of figures of speech and language means. They are used to get attention and maintain it for longerer period of time so that advertisement would go into the long-term memory and would be more easily recalled at the moment of purchase choice. It’s all manipulation, and IBM and BMW are as manipulative as any other company who advertises its goods.
Personification is giving an inanimate (or non-human) object human traits, and while the shift in the definition of the word does this, the post is more about the shift in the definition of the word than the result of the shift.