Examining the applications of artificial intelligence in entertainment

From self driving cars to home assistants like Alexa, artificial intelligence has become a normal part of our everyday lives. However, one industry that many don’t focus on when discussing AI is the entertainment industry.

There are many applications of AI within entertainment, including user personalization, automated subtitles and marketing analysis. An especially interesting development in the recent years is the influx of virtual avatars with ultra realistic features, which fall into two main categories: CGI influencers with popular social media accounts and avatars that can sing and dance alongside celebrities, such as aespa’s AI counterparts.

Virtual Influencers

One of the earliest virtual influencers, Lu of Magalu, was created by a Brazilian conglomerate in 2009. Since then, she has amassed 5.7 million followers on Instagram. Another prominent CGI influencer is Lil Miquela, who was even named in Time Magazine as one of top 25 most influential people on the internet in 2018. Similar to real influencers, Lil Miquela has featured in brand campaigns with Calvin Klein and Samsung and has even released music videos of her own.

Compared to real people, CGI influencers possess substantial benefits in the world of social media advertising and clout. For instance, they will never be caught in scandals that may harm the brand image. CGI influencers can also be programmed by their creators to fit a specific brand campaign, making them optimal to work with.

However, there may also be drawbacks. Senior Ansh Chaurasia, who is the co-president of MVHS’s Artificial Intelligence club, believes that there are also negative aspects of virtual influencing in conjunction with its benefits. 

“[Companies] might try to target a certain demographic of people by creating an AI that looks a lot like them,” Chaurasia said. “Their… messages will be a lot more influential towards them. As the stuff becomes more and more relevant to us, we’re going to want to engage in it a lot more, hindering our [productivity].”

Junior Stephanie Zhao argues that because they are designed to attract clout, virtual influencers create an unrealistic standard that humans are unable to meet.

“[In] social media, people already get such high pressures to be the best image of themselves,” Zhao said. “And if you have a completely computer generated perfect version of a human, that’s just gonna put way too much pressure on everybody else.”

Additionally, Sophomore Miriam Law brought up that virtual influencers have the potential to overshadow current models and influencers. “If there’s more people who are interested in joining this industry this may takeaway the opportunities that [are] there,” Law said.

However, at the end of the day, Law believes that there is a certain real quality of human influencers that CGI influencers will never be able to replicate. Although virtual influencers may continue to gain more attention, it doesn’t seem like human influencers will ever be completely eradicated. 

“[Virtual influencers] kind of prevent people from showing their whole raw personality…” Law said. “With an actual human, there’s like a chance for them to show… some flaws that they have… that make them different from each other.”

aespa’s AI avatars

Debuting in 2020 under the entertainment label SM, K-pop girl group aespa has taken the world by a storm. After releasing hit after hit, aespa has risen to be one of the top new K-pop acts. One of the reasons for their success is their unique AI concept. Along with the four girls in aespa, the group also contains four AI members. Not only do the AI members have lifelike features and dance alongside the girls in their music videos, they also have their own profiles and personalities.

Although aespa is the first K-pop artist to have a distinct AI concept, virtual artists have been around for much longer. In 1998, two British friends created Gorillaz, a four member animated band. Throughout the last few decades, AI has been utilized numerous times to mimic the voices or faces of celebrities who have passed away.

“AI can be used to recreate actors who can’t be there at the time,” Chaurasia said. “In the 2016 movie, The Force Awakens, they actually ended up recreating Tarkin [because] the actor who played him died a long time ago. They were able to recreate him completely in such a way that people thought it was the real guy.”

However, aespa’s use of AI seems to be a fresh concept that many K-pop fans are intrigued by. As a fan of aespa, Zhao also appreciates SM’s attempt to change the K-pop industry.

“[When I first heard about it] I thought it was cool… The industry is getting harder so their company needs to do something that makes them different,” Zhao said. “[They always] photoshop in their AI [avatars] in teaser photos and….they don’t really use the concept to the fullest potential.”

However, there are also other aspects of aespa’s AI concept that deserve scrutiny. In a speech at the World Cultural Industry Forum (WCIF), Lee Sooman, CEO of SM, said, “AI technology will enable customised avatars to fit into people’s lives and people will co exist with their avatars by living together.” 

Under closer inspection, Lee’s vision seems to have some disturbing implications. Blurring the lines between a virtual world and reality can have serious consequences, making people lose touch of what is real. 

“It would make the parallel parasocial relationships that fans have like way worse. They already think that they can do whatever they want with their idols and intrude on their business,” Zhao said. “If you have your own custom version of an idol at your disposal, that’s gonna make everything worse and you can project your own ideas on them even more, which is obviously unhealthy. I just think it’s a bad idea.”

Looking forward

On one hand, it’s amazing to see how advanced technology has become, enabling the entertainment industry to evolve and grow. However, it is crucial for consumers to appreciate human entertainers as well and maintain a healthy boundary between virtual and reality. 

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