The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is happening this week in Las Vegas and buried inside the massive convention floor—filled with new computers, a car you can drive with a PlayStation 5 controller, monitors, and other tech—is a strange, horrible, holographic Mario powered by AI and sponsored by AARP (formerly the American Association of Retired Persons).
As spotted and recorded by Twitter (or X, I don’t care) user Greggory on January 9, a hologram booth inside an AARP area at CES 2024 contained a short, 3D CG Mario. This familiar Nintendo character can answer questions and react to attendees. However, his stilted, robotic, monotone voice and delivery are very off putting and weird. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’d rather have Chris Pratt’s Mario over this holographic mess.
At one point Greggory claimed an AARP rep at the booth told him to ask Mario how to buy a video game. Mario then proceeded to offer the helpful advice of going to Target to buy it.
On an unrelated note: This particular holographic booth seems to be co-sponsored by Target, as the store’s logo is plastered on the machine.
What is this thing and how is the AARP connected to it?
While a robotic-sounding AI-powered Mario hologram is strange enough, it’s made even weirder by its connection to AARP. Why is this organization, primarily dedicated to advocating for elderly and retired people, showing off a holo-Mario? Well, it’s part of AgeTech, a larger technology push from AARP focused on meeting the needs of “the world’s aging population.” Yes, people who are familiar with Mario are getting old, us included. AgeTech includes various start-ups, investors, creators, and businesses.
One of these members appears to be Proto Hologram, a company that designs and creates large holographic-like boxes that can be placed in stores or public areas and can be used to advertise stuff using life-like people or mascots. According to a blog from the AARP about its CES 2024 booth, Proto’s 3D holograms can also “help combat loneliness and improve telehealth.”
In the lead-up to CES 2024, Proto and AARP have been hyping up a big showcase event featuring comedian, actor, and voice of Gizmo in Gremlins, Howie Mandel.
“3D Holograms allow you to beam there, when you can’t be there,” says the AARP on its CES 2024 website. “Come see how this next-generation Spatial Computing platform is transforming communication, combating loneliness and revolutionizing telehealth for older adults.”
From what I can tell, this Mario experience isn’t being advertised or promoted by AARP or Proto. But I don’t think that’s because this is being done without Nintendo’s approval. There is no way in hell these companies and groups would go rogue at CES 2024 and feature Mario at a large booth. Instead, this is likely a way to get people at CES 2024 to walk over to the AARP booth and pay attention to it. Or maybe AARP thinks your elderly grandma would get a kick out of chatting with Mario?
Kotaku has contacted AARP.
In a recent post from Greggory on Twitter, the user says they are going back to see Mario again and asked folks for some questions. I have one: Ask Mario to sing “Peaches,” record it, and let’s all have a good time watching this bot butcher that song.