Levi's faces backlash after announcing it will use AI to 'increase the number and diversity' of models: 'Unethical on so many levels'

The controversy surrounding artificial intelligence (AI) and its many questionable uses doesn’t seem to be letting up anytime soon. And now, it appears that a new “diversity” initiative from Levi’s is only adding more fuel to the fire.

According to a press release from Levi Strauss & Co, the brand has embarked on a new partnership with Lalaland.ai, a digital fashion studio that creates customized AI-generated models. The intent is to create hyperrealistic models of every body type, age, size and skin tone to be more inclusive. However, the news has sparked a pretty intense debate about what this could mean for the future of human models — especially those who represent marginalized groups — if they can so easily be replaced by fake ones.

“Later this year, we are planning tests of this technology using AI-generated models to supplement human models, increasing the number and diversity of our models for our products in a sustainable way,” the press release states.

The goal, the brand insists, is all about showing a wide range of people wearing their clothing in order to better promote inclusion and acceptance. But critics are not so sure; for one thing, the brand could’ve just hired more diverse models who actually exist.

“I thought this was an April Fool’s joke,” one Twitter user commented.

“Y’all could just pay a diverse group of models that show how your jeans ACTUALLY fit on people, but instead you’re just… faking it with AI to save money???” someone else asked. “I’ll never buy another product from Levi Strauss & Co ever again.”

Another Twitter user simply wrote, “I hate it here.”

Over on the brand’s TikTok page, people are loudly voicing their disgust in the comments of other videos, even if they have nothing to do with the AI partnership.

“If Levis creates WOC models with AI to appear diverse without ACTUALLY BEING diverse, POC will boycott,” one person declared, calling it “unethical on so many levels.”

But so far, Levi’s appears to be unapologetic about the program and is moving full steam ahead with its plans.

“While AI will likely never fully replace human models for us, we are excited for the potential capabilities this may afford us for the consumer experience,” said Dr. Amy Gershkoff Bolles, global head of digital and emerging technology strategy at Levi Strauss & Co. “We see fashion and technology as both an art and a science, and we’re thrilled to be partnering with Lalaland.ai, a company with such high-quality technology that can help us continue on our journey for a more diverse and inclusive customer experience.”

Levi’s isn’t the first retail brand to collaborate with the AI company. Its website also counts Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger among its previous clients.

In addition, Levi’s said the diversity plan won’t just end at AI models — the brand will also be stepping up efforts to work with diverse content creators (as in real human people) who are “reflective of [their] broad consumer base.”

How exactly this will all pan out, though, remains to be seen.

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