An AI specter is haunting Las Vegas this week. At the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES), artificial intelligence was the main attraction. However, a display featuring the iconic Nintendo character Mario—brought to life by digital avatar developer Proto—left attendees guessing whether the gaming giant had anything to do with the odd, AI-powered incarnation.

First reported by IGN, the apparition of Mario was spotted on the event floor of CES on Wednesday. The Mario AI appeared in a display known as the Epic by Proto, a device that aims to create lifelike recreations of people and virtual characters.

“So Mario was at CES,” Twitter user Greggory tweeted in the now-viral clip. “But uh… who approved this abomination?”

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Launched in 2019, Los Angeles-based Proto offers a holographic communication platform that uses smart cameras to create lifelike digital avatars for telemedicine, entertainment, shopping, and fitness using full-size and tabletop holographic devices.

Proto did not reply to Decrypt’s request for comment, nor did Nintendo. But according to IGN, Proto acknowledged the Mario AI hologram was not created with permission from Nintendo.

“The AI hologram animation briefly seen today is an unfinished proof of concept tested for a client to demonstrate technological capabilities and innovation,” Proto told IGN in a statement. “It is not intended for commercial release. AARP and Nintendo were not involved in the inadvertent showing today. The fact that so many gamers of the world have taken notice shows that they are the best fans in the world and we salute them.”

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On the surface, the AI Mario captured the visual likeness of the iconic character, minus the frenetic movements, but the voice is what caused the display to go viral. While Mario typically has a high-pitched and excitable voice, the Proto version’s voice was deep, monotone, and oddly formal. It was decidedly un-Mario in vibe.

“Nintendo of America nuclear lawsuit in 3…,” Blizzard Entertainment community manager Benjamin Vogt tweeted in response to the video. Others described it as “horrifying” or “horrible,” echoing common sentiment about the clearly unofficial rendition.

AARP, the organization dedicated to providing benefits to retired people, partnered with Proto for a display at CES. The activation, a part of AARP’s Agetech Collaboration event at the conference, featured an AI-generated William Shatner.

In the strange viral video, Greggory was directed by the AI Mario to shop at Target for all of his gaming needs. Pointing to Target instead of a competitor makes sense as the AARP Agetech display was co-sponsored by the retail giant.

In December, Target partnered with the “Jimmy Kimmel Live” late night show to produce a commercial. Kimmel also used Proto’s technology to reveal People magazine's 2023 “Sexiest Man Alive.”

The use of copyrighted material in training AI models is a significant part of the ongoing debate around the regulation of artificial intelligence. In November, Ed Newton-Rex, a former VP at AI developer Stability AI, resigned from the company over its stance on “fair use.”

In December, the New York Times sued ChatGPT creator OpenAI, citing copyright infringement. The Times argued that OpenAI used its content without payment “to create products that substitute for The Times and steals audiences away from it.” OpenAI pushed back on the New York Times' claims, saying the outlet manipulated prompts to get ChatGPT to spit out lengthy articles.

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Edited by Andrew Hayward

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