AI-Generated Santa Hats Gone Horribly Wrong : Entrepreneur


The IdeaWe had a simple idea. Let’s use some simple cookie-cutter machine learning to put Santa hats on people’s profile pictures. We thought it might be kind of funny and some people might enjoy it.The NightmareIt turned into a nightmare.It started out ok. We launched on Product Hunt and people were submitting their profile pictures and getting them back with Santa Hats on them. The process we were using was working. Then our post started going viral on Product Hunt and hit the front page. Suddenly, we were getting hundreds, and then thousands, of Santa Hat requests all at the same time.This would have been fine except for two reasons. The first is that a lot of people were submitting images with non-recognizable faces and getting really, really upset when they got an error back instead of whatever inanimate object or obscure cartoon they had submitted with a Santa hat on it.Who knew people cared so much about a holiday gag, but they did. Our regular customers were getting overrun with comments from the overflow of upset Santa hat requesters who were using any channel at their disposal to get their point across.The second issue was even worse. When we looked through some of these requests some people had an “interesting” sense of humor. People were submitting… let’s just say less than tasteful images. Religious figures, pornography, and racist caricatures were frequent among the submissions. This wouldn’t be so much of an issue except that these pictures, as long as they had a recognizable face, were getting Santa-hatted and then sent back to the user from an auto-generated company email.This was a pr disaster waiting to happen. We were having visions of getting screenshotted and ending up on the front page of tech crunch as a “tech gone wrong” horror story.The OutcomeWe had two options. Shut down the whole thing entirely or manually review every submission. We knew people needed their hats, so the prior choice was not acceptable to us. This meant that we spent, to the chagrin of our families, most of Christmas and Christmas Eve manually reviewing pictures for their Santa hat eligibility.The good news from all of this is what’s referred to as “The Santa Hat Disaster” has become legendary internally.Here’s the now-infamous pageWhat We LearnedIf I had to distill this experience into a few key lessons I’d say this:Always, always consider the worst possible outcome even for the things that you may think are trivialThere will always be a subset of users that are crafty and like to test the limits of what you build, often in destructive waysDon’t **** with people’s Santa hats


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