Welcome to the future, it’s 2018 and CGI models are “living” among us on Instagram. Be warned they may not be easy to spot at first. Their accounts may look like any other Instagram influencer or model’s feed. Photo’s sponsored by brands, pictures in designer clothes, selfies — you know the drill. The fascination with the AI (Artificial Intelligence) accounts is partially due to the very limited amount of information we actually know about them. Who are the creators behind them? Are they becoming free thinking as their developers may be leading us to believe? Here are some examples of Cyber Models and AI Influencers and their potential effects on the future of Instagram, communication, and fashion.
Whatever you call them, robot influencers, cyber models, CGI models, AI accounts, they are virtual avatars created via 3D animation software. The amount of names we have for them is a testament to how confused we are by their existence. With the advances in animation, these CGI models look eerily like human beings. If you come across them on your explore page you may not even realize they’re robots without taking a closer look. These models do not have physical forms, despite their attempts to confuse followers that they may. These accounts have, however, developed personalities that people connect within the comments section. Many AI models have developed political views and have identified themselves as part of racial, social, or gender groups. Others are more upfront about being CGI, and the developer is clear about their participation with the account.
Above are the names of three “Brandfluencatars” a.k.a. Brand Influencer Avatars created by the same company. Essentially these three have been presented as beings with their own personalities, senses of style, and careers (Miquela has her own SoundCloud account featuring tracks of her computerized and autotuned sounding voice.) They have been designed to do exactly what an Instagram influencer does. They all claim to be affiliated with developers called Brud, who’s website leads to a google doc vaguely answering questions about their involvement and relationship with the accounts. Brud refers to themselves as a “transmedia studio that creates digital character driven story worlds.” The answer to whether or not Miquela is real is, “as real as Rihanna.” They reference the Ai accounts on their “website” the same way they’d reference real people.
If this isn’t already confusing enough here’s some backstory on the accounts.
The Miquela (@lilmiquela) and Bermuda (@bermudaisbae) accounts came to the public’s attention when a feud erupted on social media. Bermuda had allegedly “hacked” Miquela’s account. Bermuda was threatening to reveal Miquela’s big secret. And here it is, drumroll please, she’s not, in fact, a human being. Well, anyone with decent eyesight and regular brain function could’ve figured that one out, but this lead to an eruption of media attention and an influx of followers to the accounts.
This was followed by ongoing Instagram drama due to the two AI model’s clashing political views. Bermuda’s borderline white supremacist, right-wing views and Miquela’s liberal views and identification as a “woman of color.” (I must emphasize the fact that she is not a woman but rather a computer generated image.) The feud seems like a real clash of personalities in theory, but the fact that neither “girl” actually exists makes the whole fallout look like a PR stunt. Present day the CGI influencers are friends and post photos “hanging out.”
The most astonishing thing about the accounts is perhaps the posed photos they have attending events with real people. Miquela frequently posts photos posing by celebrities and receives comments and confirmation about what a great time they had together. Miquela even credits Jon Boy Tattoo for some animated ink she shared with her 1.5 million Instagram followers. The trippiness is neverending and none of the celebrities who have allegedly met her have ever shed light on who her developers are or how they “met.”
On a much more straightforward note, photographer Cameron-James Wilson has created a CGI Model. There are no claims that she is real or self-aware, but rather that she is a work of digital art. This doesn’t make her any less successful, however. Actual brands have “dressed” her and she has even been featured on Fenty Beauty’s Instagram page. This then inflates the ballooning question mark that hangs over the next generation of models. Are humans dated? The realism that’s attainable with CGI is astonishing and if you don’t believe me take a look:@shudu.gram. Her bio simply states “ The World’s First Digital Supermodel”. It’s fascinating and could be less problematic than the CGI influencers.
Well, it depends on how you define the threat. If you’re part of the camp that believes CGI models are legitimately self-aware and it’s not simply developers running Instagrams of animated characters, then yes maybe they are, and that’s certainly an unsettling thought. So why does AI make us so nervous? It’s all about an underlying existential threat. Elon Musk has actually been very vocal about AI being a real danger to society since 2014, labeling AI a larger risk to the United States than North Korea.
On the level of social media and AI influencers, the danger may not be as extreme as Musk’s prediction, but could definitely be detrimental in feeding into insecurities and self-doubt. If models and humans alike now have to compete with perfectly animated avatars, we are putting our self-esteem at a higher risk than ever.
CGI influencers are definitely attracting the attention of companies. The reason for this is that they can manipulate exactly what the avatar is advertising. The issue that comes in is the recent update by the Federal Trade Commission which requires influencers to disclose their marketing relationships and identify paid posts. Virtual influencers make this difficult because they are not actually people, and in the case of Miquela the living, breathing developers are mysteriously unknown.
“If this influencer doesn’t disclose that a post is paid for, who is the FTC going to go after?” asks Adam Rivietz, co-founder and CSO of the influencer marketing company #paid. Furthermore, if a virtual influencer is promoting a clothing brand for example, and raving about the quality of the fabric, the feel of it, how and why should consumers believe it? After all, it doesn’t “exist” in the physical sense of the word, so how can they promote the quality of a product?
Within the realms of social media, CGI influencers can be harmless. They are a source of entertainment, art, and, potentially, advertisement. Their pages are definitely fascinating to look at, but their helpfulness, to businesses may not be as impactful as advertisement coming from real accounts.
In a recent Balmain campaign, three CGI models appeared wearing garments from the brand. The rise of CGI models in the fashion industry has definitely made it more difficult for real models to navigate. (As if conforming to body standards set by the industry wasn’t hard enough.) If your body or face doesn’t make the cut these days fashion brands can recruit someone to create the exact model they have envisioned. It’s made models easily replaceable and could eventually take over the industry entirely. Not only is it cutting out the need for real people it’s also cutting out costs of production.
Photographer Manny Roman took to Instagram to express his concerns about the Balmain CGI Model campaign. He’s concerned about the impact seeing the models could have on self-esteem. “While I do admire the campaign’s digital art, I don’t like the non-realistic message that Balmain is sending out to society,” he said. “I fear the CGI models image will escalate the body and image dysmorphic epidemic.”
The thing to bear in mind, with all technology, is the separation between the realms of reality and CGI. As seen in video game addiction in young children, the biggest danger of blurring the lines between technology a reality is the mental effects it may have on you. It should be the responsibility of developers and followers alike to make a clear differentiation between real people and AI Instagram accounts. They aren’t dangerous if we don’t let them be.
Ultimately there are still many questions unanswered about CGI models and especially influencers floating around Instagram. Because this is a fairly new development in society it’s hard to gauge whether the rise of AI Instagram accounts is a positive step for the future or a negative one.
Written by Delfina Forstmann