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?
In the World of High Fashion, Streetwear will have the last Laugh
In 2019, Virgil Abloh, proclaimed king of streetwear/ -fashion, claimed that street fashion will die in the 2020s. Through the 2010s, streetwear fashion designer Virgil Abloh convinced luxury fashion that streetwear was stylistically and culturally important. Before falling from grace, streetwear will develop away from global mass production and refocus with regional and local attention. Streetwear won’t die but it will look different.
Streetwear is the fashion of working and middle-class people. Therefore, streetwear’s death would proceed to deconstructing social class. Unless Abloh is hinting at staging a social revolution, streetwear will remain prevalent until the streets die. Streetwear is a cultural phenomenon that laced its way through America’s soul. This fashion developed through the 1990s New York hip-hop and California skate cultures then became nationally and now globally recognized. Streetwear grew from freedom to move and expresses individuality without stretching a budget.
“Just because you don’t see a celebrity wearing it, doesn’t mean it’s not high fashion,” Set by Skye founder Marina Skye said.
Affordable fashion brings streetwear its commercial acclaim. The sometimes higher quality fabrics and designer names of high fashion brands establish greater prices. Fortunately, fashion is cheap to replicate by mass-producing high street styles from runway to store. Fashion is produced fast for consumer demands and ever-fluctuating trends and It’s equally disposed of quickly once hot trends change. Unfortunately, fast fashion is unsustainable by wasting material and both exploiting and underpaying workers who produce the materials.
Fast fashion fades when people intentionally buy clothes, develop personal styles that transcend brand recognition, and advocate for international workers’ rights. Luckily, streetwear’s inexpensive nature exists outside of fast fashion. Streetwear integrates wardrobes with thrifted and old/ vintage pieces. It’s cheap by necessity and doesn’t rely on brands.
More so by its versatility and attention to comfort than its expense, streetwear is the working person’s fashion. The comfort aspect plays well to its reach. Streetwear rests on the ability to move, be dirty, and make mistakes. Oversized, distressed, and unsymmetrical streetwear styling speaks to its versatility by offering everyone unique a unique sense of style, unlike high fashion which has historically excluded the Black community and the full spectrum of body types.
The streets are immortal, therefore streetwear is eternal. Where trends change, the streets adapt, and adapting is local before its global. The “fall of streetwear” will likely be a fall of fast and high fashion. That will give rise to local fashion influenced by regional climate, lifestyle, and culture.
“As a community, we have to push young designers as much as possible,” Wish Creative Director Renaldo Nehemiah asserted. “We should showcase designers who deserve to represent fashion.”
It’s clear that Abloh has reservations about his capacity to push fashion culture. This should motivate young and aspiring designers to match his enterprising energy and carry the torch of contemporary design. Street fashion will continue elevating individuality and revolutionary approaches to style through the ’20s and beyond.
Everyone can join the movement of developing fashion by buying black-owned and newly enterprising art, fashion and designs from local producers. No one has more influence on the streets than the streets, so the people on the ground level are next-up as big names and mass production will be next-out.
New year, same you – A guide to keeping your Resolutions
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:
Millennials who despise talking on the phone are problematic AF
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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