Instacart generates recipes and food images using AI

Occurred: January 2024

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Grocery delivery and pick-up service Instacart used AI to generate 'revolting' images of food to accompany its AI-generated recipes, resulting in a backlash from its customers. 

Instacart subreddit users discovered that the company was apparently using AI-generated images to accompany entries for ingredients and recipes on its app, prompting complaints from customers and commentators that the images were 'absurd', 'disturbing', and 'horrifying'. In one instance, an image for 'Microwave Mug Chocolate Chip Cookie a la Mode' showed a small chocolate chip cookie hanging on the side of a coffee mug. 

Instacart also used AI to generate recipes, noting that they were 'powered by the magic of AI, so that means it may not be perfect.' The company was estimated to have published 8,000-10,000 such recipes, a number of which were deleted in the wake of a corruscating Business Insider article. It also replaced the accompanying AI images with stock photos.

The incident raised questions about Instacart's oversight and quality assurance of its AI programme, and more generally about the use of the technology in advertising and marketing. Some customers threatened not to use Instacart again. 


Operator: Instacart customers
Country: USA
Sector: Transport/logistics
Purpose: Generate images
Technology: Text-to-image; Generative adversarial network (GAN); Neural network; Deep learning; Machine learning
Issue: Reputational damage
Transparency: Governance