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The Apotheosis of Synthetics: Will the real Influencer please stand up?

Lil' Miquela/Instagram

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Technology has always been adaptive to new trends. But what happens when you intertwine technology meant for leisure with business? Or has the presence of artificial intelligence always had a business undertone slipping through the cracks?

Dozens of tech companies are gravitating towards the idea of Computer-Generated Imagery and Artificial Intelligence for online marketing, so it’s time to break down why the “synthetic celebrity/influencer” is in high demand.

While the digital concept is relatively new, AI has been tested for decades. We’ve seen it in movies (Ex Machina and Her), on television (Westworld and Black Mirror), and now AI is making its mark on social media platforms through influencer marketing.

Have you heard of Lil Miquela?

Launched in April 2016, Lil Miquela (Miquela Sousa) is supposedly a Brazilian American 19-year old. Only –– she isn’t human. She’s a composite of a female human being with renderings of a digitally designed face. She poses with real people, in real clothes, in real places, and she even sits front row at fashion shows. She may be a synthetically crafted CGI “robot” but her 1.5 million followers are organic. That’s right, you can find them constantly flooding her feed with heart eye emojis and encouraging comments, motivating Miquela to live her best “human” life.

Behind Miquela’s manufactured movements sits 11 tech-savvy employees of Los Angeles-based startup, Brud. Brud, which specializes in Artificial Intelligence and Robotics. They are incredibly confidential in how they operate, keeping investors on their toes. In their seed round, investors shelled out around $100,000. Their second-round garnered approximately $20-30 million, estimating Brud to be worth a reported $125 million.

More and more AI and CGI startups are beginning to follow suit, right after Brud’s invisible blueprint. This is just the beginning of the Miquela’s of the world flooding your newsfeeds.

According to a recent statement released by Brud reps, Miquela’s inception was originally not intended for marketing and advertising industries.

Their statement reads:

In 2015, we were approached by notoriously covert AI consulting firm Cain Intelligence to work on their latest project: the world’s most advanced AI, unparalleled in her ability to feel and communicate.

Initially, we decided to work with them as we were told this advanced AI would sit bedside by terminally ill children and teenagers, seeing kids through their final days. This was a lie. We soon learned this magnificent, groundbreaking piece of technology was, in fact, to be marketed to the world’s elite as a servant and sex object. This AI had full consciousness, able to feel pain, fear, and loss. It troubled us more than we could ever possibly express to think that such a miraculous breakthrough would be used for the sick fantasies of the 1 percent.

For legal purposes, we cannot disclose the exact nature of how we liberated this unfinished prototype from their labs, but what we can say is that it was the best decision we ever made. We combatted Cain’s programming with some of our own, teaching their robot to think freely and feel quite literally superhuman compassion for others. This prototype became Miquela, the vivacious, fearless, beautiful person we all know and love.

Since 2016, Brud has created three “synthetically conscious” CGI robots –– Lil Miquela, Ronald Blawko, and Bermuda. All three synthetics were designed to be fully self-aware of their creation as well as their existence as a CGI robot.

And if we’ve learned anything by watching Westworld, we all know how that goes – not so well. Given that Brud and a number of AI companies having to frequently shut down dysfunctional type code, the possibilities of what CGI robots can control could be in fact difficult to manage past a certain point.

However, regardless of the frightening, foreign territory, we are exploring with Miquela, there are several other valid concerns that have surfaced.
These “synthetically conscious” influencers don’t limit themselves to internet fame. Though Brud’s creations attract thousands of followers solely based on the sheer superficiality of their existence, they’ve created these eerily similar personas to well-known social media influencers in music, fashion, and more.

Among many sponsorships and partnerships, including high fashion brands such as Gucci, Prada, and Nike, Miquela isn’t just an influencer on social media. She’s also released three singles, including one featuring music producer Baauer. While it is unclear if someone else’s voice is being used or if it’s an auto-tune voice, Miquela’s entrance into the music industry was lauded from both fans and critics with over 70,000 streams from fans that only seem to be rapidly expanding. In addition to both of these businesses, last October, Dazed hired Miquela as contributing arts editor. While her duties or compensation as an editor aren’t exactly clear, one observation is journalists who work extremely hard to get to land these editorial positions are being robbed of their worth.

The incentivization for brands and businesses to choose CGI Influencers over actual humans is a hard pill to digest. They are easier to control, there is less room for error, and it keeps money in the companies’ pockets. However, hiring “robots” can get tricky in a world where journalists struggle to land a basic staff writing position with even the lowest of the magazines and digital platforms. Taking financial compensation that a real human needs and giving it to a CGI or AI company seems extremely unjust especially in a time where mass layoffs are becoming the norm in the world of publishing.

Even in the influencer industry, we can argue that real influencers not being able to obtain deals or sponsors all thanks to stiff competition with a robot is problematic. Not only are these “synthetically conscious” robots posing a threat, but they are also posing a serious question for consumers: would you rather have a media company capitalizing off of your consumption or have individuals advertise products based on organic your organic interests?

Hold on, this gets even more absurd.

The new trend of replacing “human” jobs isn’t just limited to influencers or editorial jobs. Shudu Gram is a CGI, 3D digitally rendered black, South African model in her mid to late twenties. She was created in 2017 by Cameron-James Wilson, a 28-year-old photographer. Since her first post on Instagram, she’s snagged over 157k followers and has been spotted wearing Balmain, Fenty Beauty, YSL Beauty and been featured in national publications.

Wilson has been repeatedly accused of racism and it is clear why. Working with black women without working with “real black women” is not only a slap in the face but also promotes a space for white men to fetishize on what he “sees” as beautiful when there are actual women of color struggling to land modeling gigs over colorism and racism within the fashion industry. With the success of Wilson’s first creation, he’s created seven more, leading to qualms of what’s in store for the future. How many actual modeling careers will be over before they’ve even started?

We are witnessing the brink of the technology age. The deeper we explore, the more advantages and disadvantages we equally discover. We enter murky waters when consumers give media companies the power to control our daily consumption; we enter even darker territory when we allow “synthetically conscious” robots to bump humans out of jobs after we’ve perfected our crafts for as long as we can remember.

But at what point do we step back and say this is enough? What side of the fence do you stand on?

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New year, same you – A guide to keeping your Resolutions

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It’s a week into 2019 and you’ve already skipped a training session, eaten a bowl of pasta, and smoked too many cigarettes. This year was supposed to be different. You were supposed to be different. But if this first week is any indication, you are very much the same. Isn’t that a bummer?

Your instagram is flooding with stories of your friends at the gym, learning to play that new instrument, opening a tax free savings account, while you, you are binge-watching Netflix’ latest thriller. (Side note: it might be time to invest in a nightlight because things on Netflix have gone seriously dark). So is there really any point in continuing the resolution charade when inevitably you are going to fail? Yes.

There is no wrong or right resolution. Big or small, making a commitment to yourself to improve your way of life is always a good thing. And in general, you aren’t the problem either. Let me say that again: you are not the problem. So stop blaming yourself. Henceforth, you are no longer allowed to call yourself dumb, fat, lazy, or lacking in willpower when you slip up. Get rid of that negative self-talk.

So if it’s not setting unrealistic resolutions that is the problem. And if you’re not the problem, then who or what is? The problem is how you react to that missed training session, bowl of pasta, and just one more cigarette then I quit, I swear! So it’s not you, because you are a fully formed wonderful human rich in complexity and certainly not in need of an about-face in character. What you need is a bit of a tweak and that tweak is in how you react to failure.

Some of the best advice my trainer gave me was to examine my life during the periods when things are going great and arm myself with ways to get back to that great place should things go off the rails. The following week I tripped while on a jog, sprained my LCL and wrist, and spent the next three weeks on the couch on a strict diet of fast food and m&ms. I had reversed the progress over the previous few months and felt like an utter failure. It was brutal.

But was I dumb, fat, lazy, or lacking in willpower, like I would have previously been quick to call myself? No! Life happened, as it does, and things slowed down. So now to get myself back on track I am tapping into those “great place habits” that I wrote down for this very occasion, and I am going to share them with you here:

1. Drink Water. But Rebecca, how does drinking water help me with my resolution of learning to play the guitar? I don’t know. Maybe you’re more cranky when you’re dehydrated? Or maybe this one doesn’t apply to you. But in general, we could all drink a little more water. And in terms of health resolutions, drinking more water as boring as the taste may be, is always the number one rule. I didn’t make this one, but I know that when I follow it, I inevitably feel one thousand times better.

2. Stop Thinking in Absolutes. Just because you missed the gym today, doesn’t mean you should quit entirely. Go tomorrow, or the next day. Spread out the time you would have spent at the gym yesterday over your next three visits. Missing one doesn’t make you a failure. Missing five doesn’t make you a failure either. It makes you human. Don’t throw in the towel completely. Tomorrow can and will be different. All you have to do is show up.

3. One Change Every Week. Baby steps. So your goal was to read a book a month but all you’ve been reading is your facebook feed. It’s uninspiring but addictive and no one can fault you for falling into that trap because we’ve all been there. My advice is to make one new change every week for the next four weeks. You want a read a book a month? For the next week cut your facebook time in half and use that time for reading. For the following week, bring your book with you everywhere. Week three, no facebook unless you’re at home – subway rides, bus stops, and coffee shops are all reading zones. Week four, take a complete respite from facebook. Don’t worry, it’ll still be there next week and you’ll be surprised (or perhaps not so surprised) to find that nothing much has changed. But what has changed is that you’ve likely made a big dent in that book.

4. Not For Now. Often times I cheat on a meal plan because I find myself trapped in the thought that I’ll never get to have m&ms or bread or ice cream again. Thinking about the long game is too much pressure and it’s the fast track to failure. It’s not never again, it’s simply not for now. And “for now” can be as long or as short as you want it to be, as long as it cycles back after you indulge.

It’s a new year, and you’re the same you, and that is a great thing! Stop being so hard on yourself. You got this. And remember:

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Millennials who despise talking on the phone are problematic AF

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If you’ve ever felt anxiety when calling one of your millennial friends on the phone raise your hand. If this statement doesn’t resonate with you then you’re apart of a rare few.

BGR recently surveyed 1,200 respondents between 22 and 37 years old on why millennials despise talking on the phone. The top response was that it’s “too time-consuming.”

After the findings surfaced, it made me realize why they’re considered the most “connected-disconnected” generation ever.

When you think about the popular stance on the subject matter it’s extremely a*s-backwards. For a group of individuals that spend almost all of their time glued to their devices perfecting selfies, creating pointless memes, and tweeting lengthy political rants you would think all of the above are more daunting tasks.

Don’t get me wrong, social media is a great source of entertainment and surely has it’s business benefits but it’s starting to form a barrier between actual human contact. And the worst part is that no one seems to give a damn.

It almost feels like you’re committing a crime the second you begin to dial a millennial’s number. On a typical day, you can expect your call to get hit with the dreadful forward button followed by a dry reply that reads, “text me” or “Hi” as if you’re bothering them or not important enough for your voice to be heard.

A large chunk will argue that they’re too busy to talk on the phone but that response is starting to sound like utter nonsense. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve witnessed young people disgusted over their friends telling them they aren’t available to talk because they’re swamped with work but a few seconds later catch them posting on Instagram or Facebook.

Millennials have mastered digital communication but have failed miserably at conversing in real life. From my perspective, many have become socially awkward. Therefore, they don’t know how to hold a decent exchange without loads of nervousness. Online confidence should be dubbed as the new liquid courage! Gen Y appears to lack a sense of assurance about themselves unless they have a laptop or cell phone serving as a security blanket.

Look, all I’m saying is utilize your keyboard in 2019 more for phone calls and less for texting. Not to get all sappy on you but think about all of the people in this world who lost family or friends and wish they could hear their voices again. It’s just something to think about over the holiday break while you scroll down your newsfeeds with boredom.

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The biggest business wake-up calls I’ve had in 2018

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Support doesn’t often come from familiar places.

After years of pouring my editorial efforts into the humble beginnings of dozens of emerging actors, producers, artists, business owners, and friends, naturally, I assumed the support would be reciprocated when I launched my company. That was the furthest thing from the truth.

I’ll never forget the day I made the announcement. I received raving reviews from strangers I didn’t even know knew my name, which was exciting and awkward at the same time. As I attempted to bask in what should have been a joyous moment a knot filled my stomach. I couldn’t help but notice that the majority of the individuals who were championing for me to start my business remained silent when I actually made it happen. I also couldn’t ignore how a large percentage of industry contacts who used to blow up my phone no longer used my number. When people feel like you’re no longer an asset to them, they have a funeral for you in their mind. You must understand that loyalty is rare and most will be loyal to the opportunity or bigger brand you’re working for–not you.

You have to be your biggest cheerleader.

In the midst of silent haters, you have to make your own damn noise. As I stated above, there were very few people who wanted to see me win out of fear of how successful I would become. Instead of allowing the negativity to break my confidence I used it to fuel my work ethic. I’ve learned to have my own back and clap for myself when I make business strides-big or little. I began to work so hard that the people who ignored me or discredited my talent had no choice but to pay attention even if they wouldn’t publicly admit it.

Lack of funding in the early stages can become your biggest resource.

In the first few months, I had no financial backing to buy camera equipment, software, or to hire staff, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Not having help or the tools I needed, forced me to let my creative juices flow. From editing videos to designing my website and logo to developing marketing strategies, I started to feel like a superhero. I discovered skills I never knew I had. After executing all the roles, it gave me clarity on the deliverables needed when on-boarding new team members. If everyone else is slacking on the job you can always count on yourself to get the work done.

More people are paying attention to your brand then you think.

When I unveiled the company, I shared the news with less than five thousand people. I had no publicity assistance or marketing budget, which I expected to result in an epic fail, but to my surprise word traveled faster and further than I anticipated. I began having international and national public relations firms email me with client inquiries, even a few celebs shouted out the company and followed the social channels. Always stay on top of your game because you never know who’s watching. It could be a potential investor or private donor keeping an eye on your progress for their next venture.

LinkedIn is your best friend.

With all my coins being invested in the company, I didn’t have money to go out every other day to networking events, so I used LinkedIn. I used to think the site was a bootleg Facebook until I realized the platform was pretty much the digital holy grail for building contacts. The site helped me find interns, land side gigs, and connect with potential partners. If you don’t have an account make it your New Year’s resolution.

Business lunches are for the birds.

I hate the smell of opportunists! The scent makes me cringe. These short 30-minute meetups are a complete waste of time. They usually begin the pretentious invite with, “Are you free this week? I’d love to pick your brain.” Most people have nothing to offer and are looking to gain something from you. Don’t meet unless you know the end result will be mutually beneficial. If they have a business inquiry, it can always be sent via email or discussed on a conference call. Time is valuable so don’t let people capitalize on yours.

Not everyone is deserving of second chances.

If they burned you once, they will burn you again. Some people never learn their lesson until you become their teacher. Chances are they’ve walked over many people before you. Don’t allow them to continue their path of destruction on your watch. Use discernment, cut ties with class, and move forward.

Go with your gut.

If you’re in a business situation that’s throwing up red flags in the air, don’t ignore your intuition. Often times, the signs of foul play go over our heads. Just because someone appears nice doesn’t mean they conduct good business.

Sometimes mentors are manipulators.

This was the hardest pill to swallow, and I must admit I’m still struggling to digest it. I’ve had powerful people who’ve appeared to be in my corner as long as I worked in their shadow. They pretended to have my best interest at heart but secretly wished I would fall flat on my face. “I want to see you progress in this industry. You were meant to shine,” one would say. “You deserve to move on to a bigger and better company,” another added but wouldn’t write me a job recommendation if their life depended on it. Mentors who try to hold you back from surpassing their success are NOT mentors, they’re manipulators. Thank them for showing their true colors and never look back.

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