Amazon’s New AI Will Make Its Junk Problem Even Worse

Of all the negative articles written about Inc. through the years, one piece in particular stung the company more than most. Claiming that Amazon’s aggressive pursuit of growth had come at the expense of a good shopping experience for its customers, New York magazine this January criticized what it called “The Junkification of Amazon.”

It’s true that Amazon’s online store experience had deteriorated due to unreliable and untrustworthy third-party sellers, many of which are fly-by-night brands — many based in China — with scant regard for quality, reliability and in some cases safety. At its immense scale, Amazon had developed a tumorous trust problem.

I was reminded of the article this week when learning about a new initiative Amazon is working on to give its sellers the ability to generate fake “lifestyle” images of products using artificial intelligence. A tool, currently in beta, takes a boring (real) image of the seller’s item — such as a toaster, say — and spins up a more interesting shot in seconds. Perhaps the toaster will now be on a kitchen counter, next to some tasty looking croissants. The images can then be used in advertising slots on Amazon’s website.

With better margins than its core retail business, advertising has become a critical profit center for Amazon at a time when investors are pressuring the company to boost earnings. In the last quarter, as reported late Thursday, advertising was the fastest growing segment in Amazon’s entire business. Ads have generated $32 billion in revenue this year.