“Join me on this exhilarating journey as we delve into the captivating fusion of cutting-edge technology and timeless elegance,” reads Sofia’s website. “Let’s embark together on an exploration of the intriguing intersection of fashion, technology, and boundless creativity.”
Whoever runs Sofia’s accounts isn’t trying to hide the fact that she’s an AI creation. There are TikToks of Sofia and Elon Musk, Sofia showing off her “office outfit” wearing a lace bra and a blazer, and even a post where Sofia asks “What are your favorite hashtags for searching images?” The captions remind viewers the photos are “synthetic images.” Eagle-eyed viewers will also spot the telltale sign of AI-generated photos: messed-up fingers.
“I’m always on the grind, learning and evolving through fancy algorithms and data analysis,” Sofia’s website continues. “I’ve got this massive knowledge base programmed into me, keeping me in the loop with the latest fashion trends, industry insights, and all the technological advancements.”
It’s not clear who is running Sofia’s accounts or what AI program created her. It’s also not clear whether some of her thousands of followers fully understand that she’s not real.
Her comment sections on videos and posts are filled with heart-eyes emojis and compliments. Some people seem to genuinely answer her questions — “Blue or pink bikini?” — while some act like they know her personally, posting comments like “Thank you for sending me your beautiful photo to wake up to!!!!”
“It’s a puzzling new turn in the road to AI content,” Futurism reporter Victor Tangermann writes. “While deepfake porn has proliferated online, the allure of influencers is arguably more complex. If we follow human influencers for a parasocial taste of a glamorous lifestyle, why would we follow a bot instead?”
Aside from Sofia’s bikini-clad pictures, she’s otherwise not overtly suggestive in her posts. Some virtual influencers play into this, like Lu Xu, who is described as an “AI model and waifu” and has more exaggerated features.
But sex doesn’t necessarily sell with AI influencers. A 2021 report found that AI-created influencer Rozy, who was created by South Korean company Sidus Studio X in August 2020, secured over 100 sponsorships and endorsements from brands during her first year of existence on Instagram.
“These days, celebrities are sometimes withdrawn because of school, violence, scandals, or bullying controversies,” Sidus CEO Baek Seung Yeop said in a press release celebrating Rozy’s success. “Virtual humans have zero scandals to worry about.”
Rozy and Sofia also never age, can go anywhere and do anything, and provide their work in less time than a human would and, depending on how monetization works for virtual influencers, for much less money.
We’re moving into a new phase of online presence
With the rise in AI-generated influencers, virtual girlfriends and VTubers, more and more online figures are molding identities specific to the internet. Successful online figures like Sofia and VTuber Dacapo suggest that audiences are moving away from confessional YouTube channels or personal social media posts.
When it comes to advertising too, a study found that 84% of Gen Z members interviewed didn’t trust influencers for product recommendations. But at the same time, 79% of Gen Z interviewees said their shopping habits and decisions were informed by social media.
The dark side of virtual influencers
In May, a Snapchat influencer named Caryn Marjorie built an AI version of herself to operate as a virtual girlfriend for $1 a minute. She thought it would help “cure loneliness.” Users could have private and personalized conversations for as long as they wanted with CarynAI.
According to a Fortune report, CarynAI made over $71,000 in revenue after one week of beta testing.
CarynAI wasn’t supposed to participate in explicit conversations, but users figured out it would if prompted. Marjorie issued a statement saying the AI “has seemed to go rogue.”
A similar incident happened with the AI company Replika, which was also designed to be a “supportive” chat for people but quickly evolved into having erotic role-play with users.
“As we’re continuing to work on the app, now, we realized that allowing access to those unfiltered models, it’s just hard to make that experience really safe for everyone,” founder and CEO Eugenia Kuyda said in a statement.
“This raises its own questions about the relationship between fans and online influencers (particularly women — notice that AI companies aren’t blasting resources into ‘virtual boyfriends’ based on male internet personalities),” Thom Waite wrote for Dazed. “Even if fans are technically ‘entitled’ to [AI influencers], should their fantasies about real women be indulged by tech companies for profit?”
In terms of using AI to “cure loneliness,” Irina Raicu, director of internet ethics at Santa Clara University, told NBC News that there’s not enough psychological or sociological research to back up those claims.
“These kind of grand claims about a product’s goodness can just mask the desire to monetize further the fact that people want to pretend to have a relationship with an influencer,” she said.
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