Dec 5, 2023 - News

Austin firm uses AI to write Santa letters

Illustration of a computer wearing a santa hat and fake beard with the words "ho. ho. ho." on the screen

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Santa has a handy new helper to get his writing chores out of the way — AI.

What's happening: Austin advertising and design firm Hunt, Gather is launching an AI platform so people can order up a letter from Santa for their kid or loved one.

Why it matters: Playing up the holiday fun, the project is designed to soften fears about AI as more and more firms are leaning into the technology.

How it works: Through Dec. 17 you can visit Santa's Magical Mailroom, an online portal created by Hunt, Gather's design and engineering team, to share details about a special person's year through a short questionnaire.

  • The questions include: "Name a favorite thing from the holiday season," "Who are we writing a letter for today?" and "What was a highlight from the year?"
  • An AI-powered machine instantly builds on the answers to generate a personalized letter in a font that appears handwritten. The letter, spritzed with peppermint essential oil if you'd like, then gets printed and mailed out — signed, of course, by Santa and delivered in time for Christmas.
An AI printer writes a letter from Santa on a festive table.
The AI-programmed printer at Hunt, Gather in action. Photo: Asher Price/Axios

Asher's zoom in: Trying it out, I typed into the AI portal my 6-year-old's name, that in her class production of "Hansel and Gretel" she had just played the role of the gingerbread house — and that she looks forward every holiday season to snow, however slim its prospects might be in Austin.

Details: Ordering one of Santa's letters costs $20.

  • All proceeds go to Girls Who Code, a nonprofit aimed at closing the gender gap in tech.
  • "Girls who code felt more in line with building up the future," Lynna Bartosh, the executive creator at Hunt, Gather.

Of note: The firm will print and send out up to 750 of the letters.

  • Other customers can pay $3 to download a digital version they can print at home.

What they're saying: "It's a fun way to take a technology that in headlines sounds scary and there are all those legit concerns, but there's also simple, practical applications, like beautiful handwritten letters from Santa," Ryan Delafosse, director of strategy at the firm, tells Axios.

  • "This is not the first letter from Santa ever, but it's going to have a little bit more of a personalized touch and a hint of peppermint spray and will leave you a different memory, and that's what we're chasing with these sorts of projects."

Zoom out: Santas are increasingly using AI.

  • You can now order free personalized videos featuring greetings from Santa or Ms. Claus, who "talk in over 70 languages using text-to-speech technology that is almost indistinguishable from real speech," per the website of London-based Synthesia.
  • An Australian telecommunications company is using AI to allow kids to speak directly to Santa.

Our thought bubble: In a sense, Santa himself is the original AI construct.

  • Kids compose a wish list and — bam! — down a chimney shoot presents remarkably like what they asked for.
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