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Humanist Archives: June 19, 2019, 10:26 a.m. Humanist 33.101 - fake people

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 33, No. 101.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                   Hosted by King's Digital Lab
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        Date: 2019-06-18 09:52:05+00:00
        From: Robert A Amsler 
        Subject: Fake People Story from NYTimes

There used to be a popular cartoon about using email on the Internet,
"On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog". (see attached idog.jpg)

Well, it seems "fake news" now has human-level "fake people" created by
advanced digital imaging technology. Coupled with companies creating a
social media presence for their brands online, and people gaining
followers as "influencers" because of video blogging, we could soon have
concentrated efforts to "design a spokesperson" for influencing people

I once predicted banking would experience such a event when computer
graphics got advanced enough to create synthetic online tellers you
could talk with. That time is almost here.

Now, we will need the footnotes to read "Not a real person; spokesperson
is computer-generated" - R. Amsler


The New York Times


These Influencers Aren't Flesh and Blood, Yet Millions Follow Them

Image: Balmain commissioned the former fashion photographer
Cameron-James Wilson to create a "virtual army" of digital models,
including, from left, Margot, Shudu and Zhi.
Credit: Balmain

By Tiffany Hsu

June 17, 2019

The kiss between Bella Hadid and Miquela Sousa, part of a Calvin Klein
commercial last month, struck many viewers as unrealistic, even offensive.

Ms. Hadid, a supermodel, identifies as heterosexual, and the ad sparked
complaints that Calvin Klein was deceiving customers with a sham lesbian
encounter. The fashion company apologized for "queerbaiting" after the
30-second spot appeared online.

But Ms. Hadid, at least, is human. Everything about Ms. Sousa, better
known as Lil Miquela, is manufactured: the straight-cut bangs, the
Brazilian-Spanish heritage, the bevy of beautiful friends.

Lil Miquela, who has 1.6 million Instagram followers, is a
computer-generated character. Introduced in 2016 by a Los Angeles
company backed by Silicon Valley money, she belongs to a growing cadre
of social media marketers known as virtual influencers.

Each month, more than 80,000 people stream Lil Miquela's songs on
Spotify. She has worked with the Italian fashion label Prada, given
interviews from Coachella and flaunted a tattoo designed by an artist
who inked Miley Cyrus.

Until last year, when her creators orchestrated a publicity stunt to
reveal her provenance, many of her fans assumed she was a
flesh-and-blood 19-year-old. But Lil Miquela is made of pixels, and she
was designed to attract follows and likes.

Her success has raised a question for companies hoping to connect with
consumers who increasingly spend their leisure time online: Why hire a
celebrity, a supermodel or even a social media influencer to market your
product when you can create the ideal brand ambassador from scratch?

That's what the fashion label Balmain did last year when it commissioned
the British artist Cameron-James Wilson to design a "diverse mix" of
digital models, including a white woman, a black woman and an Asian
woman. Other companies have followed Balmain's lead.

Image: Bella Hadid, left, an influencer on social media, and her digital
counterpart Miquela Sousa in a Calvin Klein commercial.
Credit: Calvin Klein

Human simulations have existed for years. They have dealt cards in Las
Vegas, made music in the band Gorillaz and lived an approximation of
real life in the Sims video game. But lately they have become more
realistic and more engaging.

Fable Studio, which bills itself as "the virtual beings company,"
created Lucy, a cartoonish character able to read and respond to
viewers' reactions in real time. The company says it makes digital
creations "with whom you can build a two-way emotional relationship."

Xinhua, the Chinese government's media outlet, introduced a virtual news
anchor last year, saying it "can work 24 hours a day." Coca-Cola and
Louis Vuitton have used video game characters in their ads. Soul
Machines, a company founded by the Oscar-winning digital animator Mark
Sagar, produced computer-generated teachers that respond to human
students. Last month, YouPorn got in on the trend with Jedy Vales, an
avatar who promotes the site and interacts with its users.

Edward Saatchi, who started Fable, predicted that virtual beings would
someday supplant digital home assistants and computer operating systems
from companies like Amazon and Google.

"Eventually, it will be clear that the line between a Miquela and an
Alexa is actually very slim," he said.

Virtual influencers come with an advantage for the companies that use
them: They are less regulated than their human counterparts. *And the
people controlling them aren't required to disclose their presence.*
(bold highlighting mine - RAmsler)
Many of the characters advance stereotypes and impossible body-image
standards. Shudu, a "digital fabrication" that Mr. Wilson modeled on the
Princess of South Africa Barbie, was called "a white man's digital
projection of real-life black womanhood" by The New Yorker.

The Federal Trade Commission acknowledged in a statement that it "hasn't
yet specifically addressed the use of virtual influencers" but said
companies using the characters for advertising should ensure that "any
claims communicated about the product are truthful, not misleading and

Image: KFC worked with Generic Versatility to develop the virtual
version of Colonel Sanders, here promoting Dr Pepper.
Credit: KFC

In a way, virtual influencers are not so far removed from their
real-life predecessors. It's no secret that the humans who promote
brands on social media often project a version of daily life that is
shinier and happier than the real thing. But when a brand ambassador's
very existence is questionable — especially in an environment studded
with deceptive deepfakes, bots and fraud — what happens to the old
virtue of truth in advertising?

Bryan Gold, the chief executive of #Paid, which connects influencers to
companies, said virtual influencers could lead companies into "a
dangerous area," adding, "How can consumers trust the message being put
out there?"

But the concerns faced by human influencers — maintaining a camera-ready
appearance and dealing with online trolls while keeping sponsors happy —
do not apply to beings who never have an off day.

"That's why brands like working with avatars — they don't have to do 100
takes," said Alexis Ohanian, a co-founder of Reddit and the
self-described grandfather of the virtual influencer Qai Qai.

"Social media, to date, has largely been the domain of real humans being
fake," Mr. Ohanian added. "But avatars are a future of storytelling."

KFC recently introduced a new Colonel Sanders on social media. He has a
dusting of stubble on his jaw, tattooed abs, a silver coif worthy of a
teen idol and bulging biceps beneath a perpetually unbuttoned white jacket.

The reimagined fried chicken kingpin — another virtual being — was
designed to spoof the vast ecosystem of influencers, which includes
nanoinfluencers, kidfluencers and petfluencers. His creators consulted
an inspiration board plastered with photos of human Instagram
celebrities to generate the mash-up that became the new Colonel.

"It was our opportunity to poke a little fun at the advertising world
that we're a part of," said Steve Kelly, KFC's digital and media
director. "But the love around virtual influencers is very real."

Image: The creation of the virtual Colonel.
Credit: Edelman

The rising presence of uncannily realistic computer-generated beings in
ads can be off-putting, however, in a realm where a manipulated video
can make Nancy Pelosi appear to be slurring her words and the Mona Lisa
can be "trained" to speak.

"It's an interesting and dangerous time, seeing the potency of A.I. and
its ability to fake anything," Mr. Ohanian said.

Lil Miquela operated for two years before it was revealed that she was
the product of a secretive company, Brud. Its California business
registration lists an address in Silver Lake blocked by thick
vegetation, but workers, who must sign nondisclosure agreements, said
the company actually operates out of downtown Los Angeles. Brud's public
relations firm, Huxley, declined multiple interview requests.

On a public Google Doc that functions as the company's website, Brud
bills itself as "a transmedia studio that creates digital character
driven story worlds" and says Lil Miquela is "as real as Rihanna." Its
"head of compassion," in Brud-speak, is Trevor McFedries, whom Lil
Miquela has referred to in several posts as a father figure.

Before co-founding Brud, Mr. McFedries was known as Yung Skeeter, a
D.J., producer, director and musician who has worked with Katy Perry,
Steve Aoki, Bad Robot Productions and Spotify. He has helped raise
millions of dollars in financing from heavyweights like Spark Capital,
Sequoia Capital and Founders Fund, according to TechCrunch.

Last summer, Lil Miquela's Instagram account appeared to be hacked by a
woman named Bermuda, a Trump supporter who accused Lil Miquela of
"running from the truth." A wild narrative emerged on social media: Lil
Miquela was a robot built to serve a "literal genius" named Daniel Cain
before Brud reprogrammed her. "My identity was a choice Brud made in
order to sell me to brands, to appear ‘woke,'" she wrote in one post.
The character vowed never to forgive Brud. A few months later, she forgave.

Fans followed along, rapt.

The online drama was as engineered as Lil Miquela herself, part of a
"story line written by Brud," according to Huxley. It echoed "S1m0ne," a
2002 film starring Al Pacino as a film director who replaces an
uncooperative actress with a digital ingénue.

While virtual influencers are becoming more common, fans have engaged
less with them than with the average fashion tastemaker online,
according to data from Captiv8, which connects companies to social media

"An avatar is basically a mannequin in a shop window," said Nick Cooke,
a co-founder of the Goat Agency, a marketing firm. "A genuine influencer
can offer peer-to-peer recommendations."

There may be hope for the humans yet.

Correction: June 17, 2019

An earlier version of a picture caption with this article misstated the
order of three digital models created for Balmain. It also misstated the
name of one of them. From left, they are Margot, Shudu and Zhi, not
Margot, Xhi and Shudu.

A version of this article appears in print on June 18, 2019 of the New
York edition with the headline: 1.6 Million Follow Her Online. She
Doesn't Exist.

Read 85 Comments

Related Coverage:

A Fake Zuckerberg Video Challenges Facebook's Rules
June 11, 2019

Welcome Our New Fembot Overlords
July 30, 2018

190617-Fake-People=00VIRTUAL-INFLUENCERS-hadid-superJumbo.jpg: https://dhhumanist.org/att/66867/att00/ 
190617-Fake-People=09a16c1e5e984d6ab51d4c9666c3e402-superJumbo.jpg: https://dhhumanist.org/att/66867/att01/ 
190617-Fake-People=3bd2b1ea030441c7be11636cedf93af2-jumbo.jpg: https://dhhumanist.org/att/66867/att02/ 
190617-Fake-People=1d408f2f1a964e4cb45800cc46ca7ae4-superJumbo.jpg: https://dhhumanist.org/att/66867/att03/ 
idog.jpg: https://dhhumanist.org/att/66867/att04/ 

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