The New American Gods: AI and the Future of Social
Scientists are yet to deduce whether Instagram Influencers have souls. Some today it seem, don’t.
There are questions - many questions. The first being, ‘What happens an Influencer’s body when age comes knocking?’. If you were a Buddhist (or a Numerologist), you may argue that it’s no big deal. The body is merely a carrier for the soul. A wheezing and bleeding tea bag - or an ice cream cone. As long as the soul’s OK; and they can continue flaunting Virgil Abloh’s Croc drop AW18 (that’s a thing) after a hip replacement, then there is a means for these influencers to keep on trucking ad infinitum.
Or, and this is where it gets interesting, another question, ‘Can we transfuse the Influencer’s talents into a new model?’ – a computer, perhaps. Like that episode of Black Mirror, where everyone lived on as teenagers in a giant server. Or Frankenstein.
Many questions. And yet, there seems to be only one company that is tackling them, and taking these concerns seriously. The Artificial Intelligence and robotics firm Brud. Not content with enhancing the world through sustainable or charitable robotics, they have decided to create the world’s first ever AI Influencer. Sentient as a pile of bricks. And richer than many of us will ever be.
Miquela Sousa, AKA Lil Miquela is the reincarnation of an Influencer’s soul within an artificial intelligence, and therefore an indestructible three-dimensional body. The Los Angeles-based Brazilian/Spanish model resides on Instagram, and has 1.3 million followers (or Miquelites) – many of whom are heavily invested in the drama between her and her crew of pals, such as Paris Hiltonian Bermudaisbae and tortured streetwear enthusiast Blawko22.
Lil Miquela’s narrative seems genuine. Her daily musings are familiar – sometimes vague, sometimes rambling; precisely what you would expect a hormonal teenager. Her struggles with race, romance and identity, including identity politics (FYI: you can robot-shame now) echo sentiments of her own generation.
It’s this reason, perhaps, why she has become so popular with the SLAY #Erryday demographic of social tweens. If the figment of a thirty-five-year-old programmer’s imagination can relate to the tragedy of being a girl in today’s confused world, then maybe there’s hope for them after all.
Pixar haven’t got around to making this movie yet, and it’s easy to see why. Although there’s something poignant in Lil Miquela’s fleek (or freak) show, the same can hardly be said for the supporting cast, Bermudaisbae and Blawko22. Miquela might be irritating to anyone beyond her target market; her mere existence as an ‘artificial influencer’ (two terrifying words beside each other) is a cyborg-fish-slap to Elon Musk – but at least she represents a more socially-aware, sweet natured role model.
Bermudaisbae and Blawko22 represent a different, worse kind. The first is a caricature of the superficial Barbie doll, obsessed with make-up and Starbucks; and Blawko22 being the yawn-inducing streetwear fanatic whose only desire is a pair of cheaply made trainers retailing at the price of an Islington mortgage. Love triangles. Backstabbing. Blah.
Attempts at bringing these other characters into the spotlight have failed, with neither attracting the same, astronomical number of followers as Lil Miquela. But Brud is trying: the last ten Lil Miquela posts have all included either Bermuda or Blawko22.
The reason might be (drumroll please) money. It’s unsurprising that Lil Miquela has earned the attention of the fashion industry. The likes of Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Supreme have all commissioned her to wear CGI versions of their products. Givenchy maestro Riccardo Tisci has even designed an exclusive outfit for the AI Darling. 1.3 million followers, plus timeless beauty - with no chance of zits nor love handles - equals dollar signs. And some serious opportunities for both Brud and brands to innovate their marketing. Introducing more characters means more advertising channels.
Lil Miquela’s potential is not to be underestimated. Her single, ‘Not Mine’, was released on Spotify and people, for the most part, liked it; pushing it up to number 7 on the Daily Mix, gaining the attention of Vanity Fair. It seems that the server truly is the limit. Lil Miquela may not be real, but she’s an indestructible, multi-talented machine. If Brud can find the balance between art-project and cash cow, then there’s something to (begrudgingly) admire.
To answer the original question… Who knows what the future holds for current fame-hungry Influencers. They won’t be around long enough if robots have anything to do with it. When John Lasseter collaborates with Kim Kardashian to produce a post-Ray J version of herself, we can scorn the arrival of AI and social media. But until then, Lil Miquela is the monster that ought to have every seventeen-year-old with a Tumblr page quaking themselves. Nobody is safe. Reincarnation or revolt – it’s too early to tell.