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Instacart is using AI art. It's incredibly unappetizing.

Jake Swearingen   

Instacart is using AI art. It's incredibly unappetizing.
  • Instacart is using generative AI to create photography for its recipes.
  • The recipes themselves are written by AI, as publicly disclosed by Instacart.

Instacart, the grocery-delivery app, is now using generative AI for the food photos it runs with the AI-generated recipes it creates — and the results are a bit stomach-churning.

As first spotted in the Instacart subreddit, the images have all the hallmarks of AI-generated imagery. Business Insider confirmed the photos and found several more by searching for common ingredients or recipes like "chicken," "cheese," or "cookie."

Many of the pictures have physically impossible or unlikely compositions, unnatural shadows, and the blending of two visually similar elements into one object. Take, for instance, this photo for "Hot Dog Stir Fry," in which a hot dog has the interior texture of a tomato.

Or the photo for "Grilled Salmon Ceaser Salad," where a slice of lemon and lettuce blend together to create a new type of fruit-and-vegetable hybrid previously not known to man.

The photo for "Chicken Inasal" features two chickens conjoined near the shoulder. (The recipe also calls for chicken thighs, not two whole chickens, conjoined or not.)

And the photo for "Microwave Mug Chocolate Chip Cookie a la Mode" shows a small chocolate chip cookie improbably hanging on the side of a coffee mug.

While AI image detection software is far from reliable, all the above images were run through a program meant to detect AI imagery: Is It AI. All of the above images returned were deemed to be likely generated by an AI.

The text for the ingredients and instructions for the above recipes, meanwhile, is also generated by AI, as disclosed by Instacart itself: "This recipe is powered by the magic of AI, so that means it may not be perfect. Check temperatures, taste, and season as you go. Or totally switch things up — you're the head chef now. Consult product packaging to confirm any dietary or nutritional information which is provided here for convenience only. Make sure to follow recommended food safety guidelines."

A search of Instacart's site for the above text string returned over 8,000 results for recipes ranging from "Grilled Asparagus" to "Argentine Torta de Ricota."

A spot check by BI of five different recipes containing that text all contained photos that were likely also generated by AI, according to the AI-detection software BI used. BI could not determine if this was true for all recipes containing that text string.

A spokesperson for Instacart told BI that the company is "optimizing for the best user experience."

In May 2023, Instacart announced it was partnering with OpenAI to create an "Ask Instacart" AI model that would allow users to ask Instacart questions about what to make for dinner. In that press release, it did not disclose that it would also be adding AI recipes to the site too.

"We are constantly iterating on our product to align with consumer expectations as generative AI technology matures," the spokesperson said.

Multiple companies have been accused of or admitted to using generative AI imagery in the past year. Reuters reported that large advertising agencies are using generative AI art in advertisements. Wacom, which makes tablets popular with digital artists, deleted images many suspected were created by generative AI. Wizards of the Coast, a gaming company, apologized after it was caught using generative AI in some advertisements.

With a few exceptions, such as Adobe Firefly, most generative AI imagery remains in a legal gray area regarding copyright infringement and intellectual property rights, as nearly all are trained on imagery not licensed for use in AI training data sets. Getty has filed lawsuits against Stability AI, accusing it of using its photos without paying for them. (Axel Springer, BI's parent company, has agreed to partner with OpenAI to eventually provide content from Axel Springer properties to queries by users in ChatGPT.)

Instacart, one of the few companies to go public in 2023, was down 25% from its IPO price of $30 at the end of trading on Friday. With the exception of a brief pop during its debut, the stock has struggled to surpass its IPO price. Its next earnings report is scheduled for mid-February.

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