Santa Claus is coming to town this year in a slightly different vehicle than usual: artificial- intelligence applications.
A range of tech companies now use AI to generate user-prompted audio and video clips of Santa. Users can create voice messages or video messages from Santa or, in some cases, chat with him directly. And much like corporate AI use cases, they’re tapping moderation controls to make sure their Santas don’t end up on the naughty list.
While some of these companies have had versions of AI Santa in past years, they said the advances in generative AI during 2023 have made this year’s Santas more lifelike than ever. And real-life Santas are taking note.
“There is something really magical there,” said Kylan Gibbs, co-founder and chief product officer of Inworld AI, which develops artificial intelligence-driven characters for videogames and other applications.
Inworld worked with Niantic, the videogame company behind the viral Pokémon Go phenomenon, to create an augmented reality experience called “Ask Santa Anything.” In it, a miniature Santa “flies” onto phone screens to answer questions on topics such as what he likes for dinner (cookies) and what his favorite color is (red, like his jolly suit), said Brynne Henn, product marketing lead, AR Developer Platform at Niantic.
Santa’s look draws inspiration from the 1964’s stop-motion Christmas classic, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” Henn said. As far as his brain, Gibbs said Inworld leveraged several AI models as part of its character creation engine. It trained Santa on North Pole knowledge (like the names of his reindeer) and created an emotional profile for him, including his personality (he’s jolly, optimistic and says “ho, ho, ho” a lot); motivations (to spread joy around Christmas); and flaws (he loves Christmas too much).
Santa also had strict safety controls so he’ll dodge questions on hot- button topics like politics, Henn added.
Audio production company Podcastle, whose AI platform transforms inputted text into a variety of voices for podcasts and marketing videos, got into the holiday spirit with its own AI-enabled Santa voice, inspired by the husky baritone of the Santa in “Miracle on 34th Street,” said content marketing manager Joe Towner.
Florida’s Pinellas Park Police Department said it used Podcastle’s Santa voice for a series of videos about public safety during the holidays. Sgt. Alexander Matson said he found the tool online after he was asked to narrate the videos himself, with mixed results. “They were hoping I would do a better Santa impression, but I just couldn’t,” Matson said.
AI video creation platform Synthesia said this is the third year it’s allowed users to create personalized video messages from an AI-rendered Santa. Parents generate videos for their children and companies are using it for content such as training or onboarding videos, said co-founder and Chief Executive Victor Riparbelli.
Automated and human moderation systems make sure Santa doesn’t step out of line. Don’t expect Santa to pitch cryptocurrency scams, Riparbelli said.
Across industries, concerns are rising that AI could replace human workers. But real-life Santas shouldn’t worry about shaving off their beards just yet, said Mitch Allen, founder and head elf at Hire Santa, which provides Santa Claus entertainers to malls and events.
True, this year’s flood of AI Santas may take some burden off his team, he said. The company is even considering creating its own AI Santa in the coming years.
“That being said, I don’t think that that’s going to change the tradition and the desire of parents to have a one-on-one in-person visit with Santa,” Allen said, “I can’t imagine a world where we don’t have Santas in person.”
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