It’s a typical day and you‘re scrolling through Instagram. Every now and then, you see a model, or a so-called ‘influencer’, sharing an #ad post saying how this product changed their life forever. It’s no surprise that even a post that wastes a small fraction of your attention is built upon heavy PR, makeup, cash, and lies. The emergence of Instagram has since changed how we conceptualize beauty and, for some people, their bodies too.
There is no denying that many models fix themselves behind-the-scenes, ranging from an airbrush stroke to plastic surgery.
Kim Kardashian was once caught having a faulty bum, while sister Kylie had pixelated legs. If you try going on an ‘influencer’s’ account right now, I guarantee you at least 1 in 5 of their photos is either them wearing a bikini, showing their inflated bums and chests, or going on vacation (even if it’s in the middle of winter). An accumulation of these little squares then creates a homogenous Instagram community, like an army of dolls sun-bathing all over your feed.
In a way, Instagram is creating the illusion of the American Dream — the land where promises of beauty and happiness are achieved.
This illusion, however, is becoming even more psychedelic ever since the emergence of ‘Artificial Intelligent (AI) Influencers.’ In other words, robots that are made by humans and built by a computer.
Who are they?
Take the example of Lil Miquela. She’s a 19-year-old Brazilian-American model, musician, artist, and influencer with over 1 million followers on Instagram. She’s your typical freckled, fresh-face, gap-tooth millennial who loves to be unconventional. However, she’s not even real. Her body is made out of CGI technology which is a combination of 3D art and a real-life woman.
A typical millennial browsing through their Instagram feed could easily be fooled by Miquela’s perfect life — she’s collaborating with music producers, endorsing big fashion brands, posing in Paper magazine, and receiving thousands of human likes! This year, Prada invited her to take over their Instagram account during the Milan Fashion Week. As of today, she’s worth over $6 million. The myth of ‘robots taking human jobs’ is becoming real to the level of social media.
I mean just look at this photo, she can at least pass as a half-human.
Where do they come from?
Miquela was created by ‘Brud’, a company that claims to be an LA-based hub of “engineers, story-tellers and dreamers”, specializing in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics. However, Miquela wasn’t the only child birthed by this company — it has a whole eco-system of AI ‘influencers’ who are taking the internet by storm.
One of them is Bermuda, a pro-Trump blonde female avatar that supposedly ‘hacked’ into Miquela’s account and posted sensitive right-wing content.
Guess what? She has 125,000 (human) followers in 2019. Her feed consists of selfies, daily looks, lots of opinions, and unsurprisingly… political memes.
“It’s OK to be white. I said it and I’m not afraid to say it: I am proud to be a white woman.” — Bermuda
The feud didn’t end there — the two had an entire fight that even got followers involved. Bermuda, ironically, accused Miquela of being a “fake ass person”.
“Ok, Miquela. I tried being nice. I called, I texted. I didn’t want this to be hard, but you brought this on yourself.” — Bermuda
The drama continued to the point where Bermuda threatened to delete Miquela’s account unless she “tells people the truth.”
Many commenters were quick to realize that this feud was just a publicity stunt orchestrated by the developers. But the stunt became so inflamed that even human followers got involved. Angered and confused, fans divided themselves between ‘Team Miquela’ and ‘Team Bermuda’, arguing back and forth on who to blame for the fight.
In the end, let the truth be told. Miquela confessed by posting: “I’m not a human being”.
The creation of Miquela inspired other artists to create their own AI influencers. Fashion Photographer Cameron-James Wilson created Shudu who became the ‘World’s First Digital Supermodel.’ In Wilson’s early career, he spent many years photographing A-list female models in the fashion industry, including big names like Gigi Hadid and Pia Mia.
“Shudu is a digital supermodel, a very glamorous and amazing woman. But she’s 3-D.” — Cameron-James Wilson
However, in an interview with Visual Atelier 8, Wilson reveals that his hatred for photographing standard-looking models was what inspired him to create his avatar. To him, the majority of catalog models are homogenously white, tall, and uninspiring. This led the photographer to find a new edge in the fashion world in which he used Daz3D, a digital art software, to create his viral muse — Shudu.
In February 2018, Shudu’s popularity rose after Fenty Beauty re-posted a portrait of her wearing their lipstick, Saw-C. The photo features the model putting her hands on her head while wearing nail polish of the same color. The resemblance of the digital model is so striking to the human face that even Rihanna couldn’t stop to double-check the facts.
Thanks to Rihanna’s shoutout, @shudu.gram has risen to 156,000 followers. But for a beauty company, especially one that reigns under the power of natural-beauty-queen Rihanna, should it promote more human features than that made from a computer?
Threat or fortune?
CGI has come a long way since movies like Avatar, and AI is now much more than just an Iron Man fantasy. CGI used to be for big Hollywood screens; it was worth millions of dollars. Now, they’re on your Instagram feed and receiving more likes than you. Depends on how you see the future, the rise of Artificial Intelligent models can either be a threat or a fortune. A threat to jobs, to self-love and to the fashion industry, or a revolution to new ways of marketing.
Balmain photographer, Manny Roman, expressed that “CGI models image will escalate the body and image dysmorphic epidemic.”
Anh Thu Nguyen — Sue Park