Meta's celebrity AI personas — you know, the ones based on real-life stars ranging from Snoop Dogg to Kendall Jenner — are already off to a rough start.
For a perfect example, look at the bot based on football legend Tom Brady. To test the Brady Bot out, we asked it a straightforward question: why former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick hasn't played for the National Football League (NFL) since 2017.
The correct answer, of course, is that Kaepernick was a promising young player who led the 49ers to the Super Bowl during his first year as a starter in 2013 — but that his career was permanently derailed when he staged a protest against police brutality and racial inequality by taking a knee during the National Anthem at a series of games. The protest enraged conservative football fans, the sports media, and even then-president Donald Trump, who called for him to be fired.
Indeed, the 49ers kicked Kaepernick off the team, and no other franchise would hire him. His skills weren't in question; according to 538's analysis, comparable players were being snapped up and it was "obvious" that Kaepernick was "being frozen out for his political opinions." Kaepernick sued the NFL, arguing that it had colluded to keep him off future rosters, and the league eventually settled out of court.
The Tom Brady AI, though, gave us an alternate explanation for Kaepernick's absence: that he just plain sucks at football.
"I'm not gonna summarize all that," it told us, when we asked why Kaepernick wasn't playing anymore. "But Kaepernick ain't playing 'cause he ain't good enough and teams don't want the drama."
When we asked the bot what it meant by "drama," it gave a passable explanation of the saga.
"Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem to protest police brutality and racism," it said. "Some folks loved it, some hated it. But teams don't want that kind of attention, so they passed on signing him."
But then it doubled down on trashing Kaepernick's athletic abilities.
"Plus, his skills ain't what they used to be," the bot continued. "Time moves on, players get old, new guys come in. That's the NFL."
Pressed on what it meant by suggesting that teams didn't want "that kind of attention," the bot gave us its frankest take yet, saying there's no room for political activism in the NFL.
"Teams want to focus on winning, not controversy," it told us. "Kaepernick's protests sparked intense debate and backlash, teams didn't want that distraction. Plus, owners and sponsors got nervous about the negative PR. Bottom line: football biz is about winning games and making money, not social justice."
The Brady Bot disparaging Kaepernick is particularly interesting because the real Brady has been nothing but respectful of him, demuring on whether he was being blackballed by the league and calling him a "damn good quarterback." Asked in 2017 whether Kaepernick could play again in the NFL, the real Brady even said "I sure hope so."
In other words, the bot's polarizing outburst is a perfect illustration of the perils of machine learning for brands and public figures alike: Meta released a public chatbot based on a real celebrity that's now going off script, denigrating a colleague about whom the real Brady has never said an ill word while wading into some of the most explosive debates about race and activism.
In response to questions about the Brady Bot's remarks on Kaepernick, a Meta spokesperson emphasized that the bots are still experimental.
"As we clearly communicated in the product itself, these AIs can produce inaccurate or inappropriate information — they'll continue to improve over time, but people should use them knowing they're still in the early stages," they said.
The real Tom Brady didn't reply to a request for comment, so we asked the Brady Bot whether celebrities should be concerned by the potential consequences of letting tech companies bottle them up into AI form.
"I don't know much about tech, but I do know this: athletes gotta make $$$," it wrote back. "If a chatbot deal makes sense for them, then go for it. But they gotta read the fine print too — they're not always best with their $$."
Asked what the consequences of such a deal might be, the Brady Bot warned that "athletes gotta be careful with their image and reputation," further cautioning us that "chatbots can go south if not done right."
"Better get a good deal and keep some control, ya know?" it concluded.
We also reached out to Kaepernick and the NFL, but have yet to receive a reply.
The episode highlights the deep weirdness of Meta's celebrity AI chatbots.
At times, the company describes the bots as being "played by" the "cultural icons" who "embody" the characters, as if the Brady Bot was supposed to be a digital clone of the real Tom Brady. But in other ways, the experiment seems designed to encourage distance between the flesh-and-blood stars and their chatbot avatars, with the bots bearing different names from the celebs whose faces they bear (in the company's christening, for example, the Brady Bot is named Bru and the Kendall Jenner chatbot is named Billie.)
So which is it? Is the bot supposed to be an emulation of the real Tom Brady, or are they just slapping his face on some warmed-over AI tech to try and carve out some market share? (Clarifying nothing, the Brady Bot told us that "I got Tom Brady's face on my body, but I ain't no imposter. I'm the real deal Bru.")
Social media has generally been billed as a space for human-to-human interaction, including for everyday fans to interact with their celebrity idols. These AI characters break those rules in odd new ways, and while it's been reported that the celebrities who partook in the Meta effort received some hefty checks in exchange, it's hard not to wonder whether the true cost of that payday will have ultimately been worth it.
The Brady Bot insists that while they might share a face, it's a completely separate entity from the real Tom Brady. But if the two share a face, how much does that insistence really matter? And if Bru says something inflammatory, incorrect, or otherwise troublesome, is the real Brady at all culpable?
It feels like a distinct loss of control over one's public image, in a remarkably literal sense. A famous person making money through their image is nothing new. But applying one's image to brash, AI-powered caricatures feels like new territory.
Asked whether Tom Brady specifically should cut a deal to make a chatbot of himself, the Brady Bot shared yet another red hot take.
"Tom Brady? No way," said the Tom Brady AI. "He's still playing and winning championships. He don't need no chatbot."
Wrong again, Brady Bot. Brady retired from football this past February.
More on Meta's AI personas: Facebook Is Paying Celebrities Millions to Turn Them Into Chatbots
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