Meet the Photographer Behind the Social Media App for Everyone Sick of Meta’s AI

At the moment we’re having this conversation, how many people have Cara accounts?

Now we’re at nearly 900,000 users. But it’s been stressful. Yesterday or the day before—I’m losing track of time now—I saw a bill from a service provider and it was almost $100,000 for six days. So we’re trying to figure out our financial situation. It’s an ongoing process.

Are they working with you to reduce the bill?

I certainly hope so. We’ve had multiple calls and are working through things. There have been other service providers talking to us too, so we have options, but I’m hopeful that we can work it out with these guys and keep a longterm relationship.

This wasn’t meant to be your full-time gig. Is there a point where this gets too big and you have to look for partners? And are you considering a subscription model or outside investors?

Before this all happened, the next thing on our to-do list was to start a subscription service for our users, to see what the response would be and whether it would be self-sustaining. Now we don’t have time—we have to pay the bills now. So I’m looking at all options.

Do you worry about people from outside your circle getting involved and having a say?

The important thing is that I maintain control of how I’m building Cara. I love to be independent and want to do it on my own as long as possible, but in the worst-case scenario, we raise money. I did consider a friends and family [funding] round for later this year, with people I can absolutely trust.

Where would you like to see Cara in five years?

I want to see what the community needs and build according to that. I have some idea of how generative AI will impact jobs, and how it might reduce pay even for people who still have jobs, but who is to say what will be the most helpful in five years? I’m sorry if that sounds like a non-answer, but I just think you have to adapt as best you can and build what makes the most sense in the moment.

How many people are working on Cara right now?

Four or five of us for the last year or so. We temporarily have a bunch of help. I don’t know if they’ll stick around, but right now we have closer to 10 on the engineering team working with us through this crisis. Originally we had three staff helping me day-to-day, and right now we have 10 to 20 people trying to do things like manage our Discord, which last time I checked had between 8,000 and 10,000 people. They’re trying to manage content moderation. On Instagram we have tens of thousands of messages. Everyone just wants to help, and people are being really kind.

Backing up a bit, could you walk me through joining the class action lawsuits against generative AI companies?

I don’t really like to be involved in things, but if nobody has addressed something that I’d like to see, I’ll do it. It doesn’t matter if it makes me unpopular. It was a little difficult for me to watch when people were still in the denial stage about generative AI being usable for work. This will never replace artists, look how bad the hands are.

I will say that the hands are, indeed, bad.

My exposure to tech and art production is different since I work as a photographer and I’m in the pipeline of production. I’d have companies sending me demos talking about natural language processing being used to generate stuff five, six years ago. I stayed out of the AI discourse for a while because I was underway with my own copyright lawsuit at the time, and there was a lot of harassment.