In December, Mahindra Racing's Formula E team quietly birthed an "AI-generated influencer" named Ava, taking the form of a digital approximation of an attractive young woman. Ava's supposed duty was "fueling inclusion through AI innovation," yet after 11 posts and a deluge of bad reactions, she's already been banished to the shadow realm of empty hard drive space.
Ava's first posts on Instagram (on the now-defunct @avabeyondreality) appeared on December 8, 2023. On January 11, 2024, the team's CEO and Principal, Frederic Bertrand, issued a statement confirming the end of Ava's short life and career:
Nurturing diversity, inclusion and innovation is at the heart of Mahindra Racing.
Our AI influencer program was designed with this innovation in mind.
Your comments hold tremendous value. We have listened, understood and decided to discontinue the project.
References to Ava have been torched from the IG account created for her, as well as Mahindra's feeds. Good.
I wonder if this is the first personified AI to get ... fired? It's certainly the first I've seen in the context of motorsport. Regardless, the idea and execution of Ava was unsettling hot trash, and I hope the rest of the industry takes note never to trot out anything like it again.
The corporate benefits of a computer-controlled pitchman persona are obvious. Being able to tweak every single aspect of the avatar representing your brand theoretically gives you space to create a flawless mascot and mouthpiece. But I'll spell out why Mahindra's Ava was a categorical whiff for the business bean counters and venture capital vultures who will mourn the loss of this creepy waifu.
First off, an artificial persona is antithetical to "inclusion." Like, the brand's so inclusive it couldn't find a single human being to represent it? That doesn't work. I saw a couple of comments in my feed along the lines of: "motorsport teams will do anything but hire a human woman," and, yeah, that pretty much sums it up.
Second, believe it or not, the value of an actual influencer is not just skin deep. I know it's tempting to dismiss the whole idea of modern social media spokespeople because, when you zoom out, they just look like hot people holding products. But influencers who are worth following have an actual personality, backstory, and a vibe that the community picks up on. Personality being the key; it's what allows us to develop relationships with the individuals we follow, even if we never meet them. Without that, you might as well just read a press release.
I'm not particularly excited by AI in general, but I have seen some very cool applications of it, and there's clearly value and capability in the technology. Ava was not one of those applications. I'm pleased that the public rejected Mahindra's ill-advised use of it here, and that the company's done the right thing by shutting it down.
All that said, we're rolling full-steam ahead into the era of AI influencers whether the public wants them or not. Ultimately, even authentic-seeming "personalities" will be programmed, and it might be genuinely difficult to figure out whether you're connecting with a person or a rendering. Like all things that start out fun and small-businessy, influencer marketing will be completely swallowed by corporate churn, and the democratized version of the internet we enjoyed for a while will really be over. But hey: in the meantime Mahindra has a great opportunity to make good on its commitment to inclusion by hiring an actual human being from an under-represented group to share the thrill of Formula E!
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