Soylent, the food replacement substance that shares a name with a 1973 movie about cannibalism, will now be advertised by a fictional AI spokeswoman who also runs a store on the dark web. Trish, as the void-faced silver box is known, is “a nutrition-obsessed artificially intelligent spokesperson” who will “educate people on how to use a range of products” and “help make food decisions easier and stress-free.” She’s the joint product of company and advertising agency Wieden+Kennedy, and will appear in marketing materials. Her dark web store, Soy Route, sells exclusive products like a mystery-flavor company, a beef-flavor kit, a company’s pin pack, a Soylent Drink multipack, and “golden Soylent” signed by CEO Rob Rhinehart. Ad Age says that Soylent is not technically named after the film Soylent Green, in which a mystery food turns out to be processed human meat. It draws from the book that film is based on, where “soylent” is a mundane combination of soy and lentils. That didn’t stop one of my coworkers from once publicly betting that the product was a viral marketing campaign for a Soylent Green remake, because let’s be honest, the only thing most people remember about either story is Charlton Heston yelling “Soylent Green is people!” The point is, it is already a ridiculously sinister-sounding company, even when it’s not literally making people sick.
But not sinister enough, apparently. Because some executive pounded their fist on a boardroom table and declared, no, we need more science fiction nightmare tropes, and now here I am gazing into the glowing vacuum of Trish’s thousand-yard stare. “Hello. I am Trish. An artificial intelligence created by Soylent. I am here to help,” she says. Trish will be showcased at SXSW this weekend. I assume that if I visit her and try to look away, she’ll scrunch up her eyes in this peculiar expression that’s equal parts laughter and menace. “I’m sorry, Adi,” she’ll say. “I can’t let you do that.” Then the Ludovico brand activation booth boots up, and Soylent’s patented aversion therapy cures me of my desire for regular food forever, before Rob Rhinehart announces the new Soylent-sponsored rollerball league. Somewhere, the executive finishes a Planet of the Apes marathon. Hey Trish, they say to their virtual assistant. How much Soylent would it take to literally bury the Statue of Liberty?