Why this AI influencer is freaking me out, and so it should you

So fake, it feels real

“How many people in the room think AI will eventually replace the comms professional?”, asked a speaker at the Adformatie conference this week. About 1 in 300 believed this could happen. Then she presented Lilmiquela. A famous social media influencer with over 1,6 million followers. The only detail is: Lilmiquela is not real. She is an AI that feeds itself with how real social media influencers talk on social media, she mimics the words, topics, tone, dilemma’s, and stories and quickly discovers what gains traction and what not.

She looks uncanny real. Not only in how the CGI resembles a real girl, but also in how she has real emotions, real girl problems, real thoughts about life and boys, real consumption preference, and real mood swings. Everything you would expect from your social media influencer.

What’s even more bizarre: people know she’s not real. Her makers don’t hide that she’s computer-generated. And yet, people connect with the fake persona, with the fake emotions, the fake heart-brokenness, the fake little shout-outs to the fans, the phoney consumption preference, etc. The manipulation is pretty disturbing, as you can see in the video “A weird man touched me (and I almost died)” below.

But she’s nothing more than a business model.

She’s designed to generate eyeballs for brands.

And the AI knows how to connect with our deepest fears and desires, meanwhile hooking you to the story and feeding you with brands and consumption advice….

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You might argue that playing to our unconscious emotions is as old as advertising. And you’re right. The only detail is: Advertising was always recognized as advertising. You knew that there was a sender who used a medium to build desirable associations around the product.

Propaganda was already a bit more tricky. The sender is trying to disguise that the stories they create about the world and about what is threatening us, are a cynical attempt to hijack our brains to gain power.

Propaganda 2.0

But this is propaganda 2.0: There’s no clear sender, There’s a smart computer who figured out how to exploit your attention and your emotion with the sole purpose to sell you a lifestyle. It doesn’t tell you: we’re trying to sell ou a dream. Instead, it says: I want to be your best friend! Let’s connect and talk to me.

I have always been fascinated by technological progress. But there was a  point in time a couple of years ago where it became evident to me that technology has its own will. And, although it keeps insisting on the exact opposite, its intention is not to serve us. Instead, its will is to shape our thoughts, emotions and behaviour for commercial or governmental control.

The future is already here

Lilmiquela should freak us all out. She is the evidence of how advanced behavioural engineering has become in only a few years. Shoshana Zuboff argues in her epic book on “surveillance capitalism” that a couple of years ago, we were the product Facebook and Google sold to advertisers. But now we have become the ground material for the algorithms. Through the free products we so happily use, they build such a massive amount of behavioural data that, once fed into AI, we – humanity – will effectively become what the comedian Bill Hicks once called “a virus with shoes”.

It’s not because your not paranoid, that it doesn’t mean they’re not after you.

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