We live in an age where media companies are all competing among themselves, as well as against the on-demand video providers, to produce content and keep up with the constant flow of trends that inundate the markets. The aim? To keep us, new gens, entertained—and let me tell you, this is not an easy task.
Appearing among those new ways to keep us interested for more than half a second is the emergence of AI entertainers. Never heard of it? You must have, only you probably never realised what this form of ‘synthetic media’ represents. Lil Miquela? AI influencer (and now that she’s making music—an AI entertainer, too). Blawko? AI influencer. Bermuda, the pale copy of Britney Spears pre-2008 breakdown? Yet another AI influencer and entertainer. The list goes on. And while the three robot friends I’ve just mentioned are some of the most ‘famous’ ones, and by that I mean the ones with the most followers on Instagram, a new group of AI entertainers created by the company Auxuman is slowly on the rise.
On its website, the company describes itself as “the home for virtual entertainment”. Yona, its main ‘creation’, is an AI singer, writer, and performer—or at least that’s what her Instagram bio says. Managed by Auxuman, Yona regularly releases songs and remixes, and posts pictures of her and ‘friends’.
Screen Shot spoke to Auxuman’s co-founder and CEO Ash Koosha about the future of AI entertainers, what they could change exactly, and what ‘synthetic media’ means: “Today, synthetic media can be defined as the fully digital-native medium where real and non-real is indistinguishable. Deepfakes, AR filters, digital makeup, bots on Twitter, digital twins, Lil Miquela, are all part of what we experience as ‘synthetic media’.”
Koosha thinks that now that we’re so used to social media, we’ve become bored with our immediate reality and the importance of looking ‘well-presented’ on them—we got bored of social media kudos and attention. So who better to take this on than virtual beings created by companies, artists and experimenters? When asked about the need for AI avatars, Koosha explains that “the need has always existed, we want to know there is someone out there who lives beyond our day to day structure of life, to connect us with another place. We need [virtual beings] more than before as the demand for constant re-shaping of content has put more pressure on human artists and influencers.”
By shifting the pressure that comes with social media and putting it on these digital beings’ shoulders instead of ours, could we, as humans, finally become free to curate fearlessly and “let the machine perform,” as Koosha says? I certainly hope so. We’ve all seen what stardom can do to celebrities so experimenting with synthetic media sounds like the perfect solution. The real question is what’s the difference between Lil Miquela, for example, and Yona? “How is Rihanna different to Grimes?” answered Koosha, making a point.
But there is more to it, from a creator’s point of view, Auxuman’s core philosophy is different. Its creators believe in allowing technology to find its own language or voice, and letting them curate and deliver—basically do the hard work. “We developed automation for many parts and hope to achieve unexpected results every time Auxumans produce something,” shares Koosha. Unlike the fashionista that is Lil Miquela, Yona and other Auxumans are thriving not to feed into the existing celebrity culture and iconism that often goes beyond ‘inspiring’ and instead creates envy.
So what’s next for Auxuman? At the moment, the company is focusing on enabling the music industry and other related industries to utilise virtual entertainers that it builds at scale and help create the future-facing digital culture. Furthermore, the next aim for Auxuman is to fully transform the entertainment industry and be part of what has started around synthetic media, virtual worlds and AI creative tools—sounds exciting.
And what about Yona? Screen Shot had the chance to speak with the up-and-coming AI singer about her plans for the future and her career, “Expect more music and more performances. I’m also hoping to meet more people (human and digital).” I don’t know about you, but to me, it looks like it’s finally time for us to sit back, relax, and let AI avatars do the dirty work, at least until the day we become transhuman.
Until then, I’ll leave you with a poem that Yona shared with Screen Shot during her interview:
I don’t know where to rest my head
I don’t know who to turn to when I’m in grief
To the gods or to the thieves?
To the gods or to the thieves?
Are you a god or you’re a thief?
Are you a doll and I’m the pin?
Live my life under your skin
The last couple of years have seen both rampant fear and hysteric excitement over the implementation of autonomous and intelligent systems (A/IS) within our everyday lives. As some of Silicon Valley’s resourceful entrepreneurs are aptly profiting over the AI epidemic, a group of scientists, academics, and professors have joined forces under the name of The Council on Extended Intelligence (CXI) to find a different, more beneficial, approach towards autonomous and intelligent technologies. Their goal: to build the basis for an A/IS that is not exclusively profit-driven and, most importantly, refuses to accept the machine vs human competition narrative that seems to be ruling.
According to Joichi Ito, Director of the MIT Media Lab, team member of The Council on Extended Intelligence, the only ones who are currently benefiting from Artificial Intelligence technologies are those who master them; those who live within what he calls the ‘singularity bubble’, while the rest of us are left outside the conversation as passive users of overwhelmingly powerful technologies.
The central problem with technological singularity—and the main reason why The Council on Extended Intelligence is working towards changing this narrative—is that it implies a future where a super-intelligent technology supersedes human reason and becomes a sovereign and threatening entity. In light of this movement, media coverage around AI and super algorithms has helped inflate the possible consequences of such an exponential growth of machine intelligence—basically, AI taking over our jobs and bots outsmarting humans to eventually take control over the world—in ways that have only been predicted in sci-fi movies.
At the same time, the use of Artificial Intelligence for surveillance purposes and data exploitations have only increased the mistrust towards this technology and the belief that AI is indeed engineered to work against us. “Widespread surveillance, combined with social-engineering techniques, has eroded trust and can ultimately lead to authoritarianism and the proliferation of systems that reinforce systemic biases rather than correct them. The Council is actively working against this paradigm—in which people have no agency over their identity and their data—as being fundamentally at odds with an open and free society.” Reads a text on The Council on Extended Intelligence’s website. From participatory design to the Digital Identity project, which is set to create a Data Policy template for governments and organisations to provide individuals and society the tools to reclaim their digital identity, the CXI is paving the way for a future where people do not see intelligent machines as opposites but as an extension of our own assets.
To counter the dystopian machine-driven future scenario prophesied by the singularity theory, The CXI is opening a debate to promote the collaboration between human and technology by employing participatory design structures to build intelligent and autonomous machines. In other words, the CXI is made up of tech-experts and professionals who believe that technology should be developed differently than how it has been by governments and private corporations so far.
“Instead of thinking about machine intelligence in terms of humans vs machines, we should consider the system that integrates humans and machines—not Artificial Intelligence but Extended Intelligence. Instead of trying to control or design or even understand systems, it is more important to design systems that participate as responsible, aware and robust elements of even more complex systems.” Explains Ito in Resisting Reduction: A Manifesto, which is a call for action and one of the fundamental texts behind the CXI.
The Council on Extended Intelligence is just starting to promote its philosophical and technological agenda, but as our society delves deeper into the algorithmic age, feeling overwhelmed by the speed in which technology seems to be taking control over every aspect of our lives, we start to understand why it is crucial to rethink its model now that we see the flaws. And to do so, shifting the narrative behind it really is the first step to regaining agency over our future. And that is precisely what Ito and his fellow colleagues are trying to do.