Rise of the AI influencer

Date:9 October 2019 Author: Leila Stein Tags:,

What you see on social media isn’t exactly reality. With ‘influencers’ re-touching their photos so that their waists are smaller and the sea behind them is bluer, social media has become accepted as an enhanced version of our world. Now, the blurring of the line between real and fake has gone even further with the introduction of Artificially Intelligent (AI) influencers.

When you first stumble onto one of these social media ‘robots’ Instagram feeds, it can take a minute for your brain to actually acknowledge they aren’t real people. The level of perfection achieved in most retouched photos these days makes it hard to identify that these are entirely digitally rendered beings. Their convincing dialogue and videos also make it hard to distinguish them from your average 20-something as well.

The most successful ‘robot’ influencer, Miquela Sousa or better known by her handle @lilmiquela, has racked up 1.6 million followers since her creation in 2016. While ‘living’ in the virtual world, she has collaborated with real word designers appearing in fashion shows and campaigns, sometimes even alongside human models like in this confusing Calvin Klein ad where she kissed Bella Hadid.

Miquela is not alone, in 2018 the AI influencer market has exploded with multiple virtual model accounts being created. Some look as realistic as Miquela, including Shudu who is called the ‘world’s first digital supermodel.’ While others are a obviously fake like Noonoouri who has extreme Bratz-like features.

Shudu is so convincing that she got her ‘break’ after Rihanna’s beauty brand Fenty Beauty briefly reposted her photo trying out their lipstick, apparently without realising she wasn’t a real person, according to Vox.  Her creation hasn’t been without controversy though as some have accused her creator Cameron James-Wilson, a white photographer, of blackface since he created a black AI and is making money from her involvement in high fashion campaigns like that with Balmain.

This has not stopped James-Wilson though as he has created multiple AI influencers since, including a black man named Koffi and an alien, who are all part of his digital modeling agency called the Diigitals.

These so-fake-they’re-almost-real online characters have yet to reach the heights of real celebrities and influencers with Miquela being the only one to reach over a million followers so far. But those who do follow engage enthusiastically with these robots fake lives which include boyfriend dramas, friendship fights and shoutouts to their followers.

How you digitally render an AI influencer

While these virtual models are called AI, in reality most of them are just beautifully, well-rendered animations which have dialogue and posts written for them by copywriters. Vox, pointed out that while the creators of Miquela and her friends call their business “a technology startup specializing in artificial intelligence and robotics,” they hold no patents in any of those fields. Since motion graphics has reached such a realistic point, these digital influencers have become thought of as AI, despite just being more sophisticated versions of previous digital online characters, like the virutal band the Gorrillaz.

This doesn’t mean that real AI robots aren’t a possibility for the future. According to The Verge, Miquela has inspired venture capitalists to heavily invest in virtual creators an progress the technology to make them truly powered by AI. One such company, Betaworks plans to run a startup camps with industry innovators which will focus on “synthetic media” which is a combination of the computer-generated imagery like Miquela but with AI capabilities.

Picture: Lil Miquela/Instagram

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