Etsy CEO Is All In On AI, Says Human & Machine Collaboration Can Still Be "Handmade"

Liz Morton
Liz Morton


Etsy CEO Josh Silverman has taken a strong stance in favor of allowing AI-assisted creations to be sold on the site as "handmade", likening the collaboration between humans and machines to other creative and artistic expressions like electronic dance music.

Silverman made the comments at a recent Axios event in New York City, according to

“We had some discussions about, is that handmade or not? Does that belong on Etsy? And we decided, ultimately, that it was—in the same way that electronic dance music, the most popular form of music in the world right now, is collaborations between humans and synthesizers. I think this collaboration between humans and machines to generate art is actually going to be the next frontier.”

That's certainly a positive way to look at how AI can be used to create art, but Silverman also desperately needs to address the ongoing proliferation of AI-generated deep-fake porn for sale on the site being actively promoted by the company's recommendation and related searches features.

Etsy Has Been Hosting Deepfake Porn Of Celebrities
AI-generated pornographic images of at least 55 well known celebrities were available for purchase until Forbes notified Etsy. Meanwhile, the company’s recommendation and “related searches” feature directed users to even more.

On the buyer experience and customer service side, Silverman believes it's important to strike a balance and that users are not yet completely comfortable interacting with AI chatbots.

"I think right now, where the capability is is often further ahead than where consumer comfort is. So, trying to find out what people are actually expecting and meet them where they are is going to be a big part of the journey now.”

He went on to share how unpopular a recent chatbot sales assistant was with users because the problem it was attempting to solve -narrowing down a hundred million sales items to 30 search results appearing on the site’s first page—was “literally impossible” and customers found the extra chatty chatbot annoying.

Silverman admitted the chatbot has “very, very low customer satisfaction scores now. Customers are going to get there. They’re going to get used to interacting with OpenAI, and that’s going to become a more natural thing. I think over time that’s going to be great, but it’s not where they are right now.”

And back to the idea of human and machine collaboration, Silverman says there's still plenty of need for human curation in Etsy's recently introduced AI-powered Gift Mode discovery tool.

Etsy Gift Mode AI Recommendation Tool Launches In Stealth Mode
Etsy Gift Mode helps buyers easily find special gifts for all the people & occasions in their lives, with a little help from AI.

“We start to learn from that, what are they browsing on and what are they dwelling over? Those very implicit cues that tell us, here’s what we’re getting it right, here’s what we’re getting wrong. We did that across hundreds of persona—and that would’ve been very difficult before.”

“Our mission is keeping commerce human. We’re all about humanity, but we talk about becoming super human by partnering with machines with people. We still need people in gift mode. We still have human curators that look at the ideas that the machines come up with and then pick the very best. And that feedback also helps the machines get better, too.”

What feedback would you have for Etsy on how they can "keep commerce human" in an increasingly AI-driven environment? Let us know in the comments below!


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Liz Morton is a seasoned ecommerce pro with 17 years of online marketplace sales experience, providing commentary, analysis & news about eBay, Etsy, Amazon, Shopify & more at Value Added Resource!