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This is Lil Miquela, the computer-generated influence that will make her doubt what is real and what is not
Miquela Soussa, better known as @lilmiquela, is a 19-year-old woman who, like any other influencer, tries to make her followers identify with her and share details of her intimate life in social networks. She has a model body, freckles on her face, a taste for urban style clothing, and is committed to causes such as Black Live Matter and anti-gun policies in the United States.
Miquela has, in addition to political postures and problems of an average adolescent girl, such as racial ancestry: she is half North American and half Brazilian. Miquela is not, however, a human being. She defines herself in her Instagram bio as a robot, but the truth is that she does not occupy a physical space in the world; it is a Computer Generated Image (IGC). According to Emilia Petrarca's profile of Miquela for The Cut, the influencer would be an avatar operated by Brud, a mysterious start-up based in Los Angeles specializing in artificial intelligence and robotics. Miquela has about a million and a half followers on Instagram. She has signed with big fashion firms to model their clothes and also makes music.
Miquela has two great backgrounds, she is not the first virtual celebrity. At the end of the nineties the musician Damon Albarn and the artist Jamie Hewlett founded the band Gorillaz, which consisted of four animated characters in 2D. However, this was a case of hidden identity and reflection on whether music performers or music is what matters. Then, just a few years ago, Hatsune Miku, a Japanese avatar of a 16-year-old girl, became famous and her hologram could be seen on stage during her concerts. Even so, Miku always assumed himself as a hologram and, although his fans paid to see her, she was never assigned characteristics, emotions or human suffering. Miquela, different from these two antecedents, complains in her social networks of the temperature, has friends and enemies, political positions, offers interviews and attends events.
Miquela has existed since 2016 and a year ago she went through an identity crisis. The also IGC pro-Trump blonde Bermuda hacked into Miquela's Instagram account, deleted all of her publications and started posting photos of herself. She claimed that she would return the account she held hostage when Miquela "told the truth about who she is". The hack lasted one day, at the end of which Miquela decided to confess to her followers that she was not a human being. Since leaving the closet of robotics, Miquela says she feels freer and more sure of herself. She blamed Brud for making her followers believe that she was a human being when in reality she is, as she defines herself, a robot. Since then, she says, she does not work for Brud anymore (who operates her then?), which could confuse some of us, because it would be thought that her own existence depends on working for those who are her puppet masters. Her followers, on the other hand, seem to grant her human characteristics of rebellion and decision-making.
How real is Miquela?
In an interview with the youtuber and conspiracyist Shane Dawson, Miquela said she was real given that she was answering the interviewer's questions. The conversation they were having on the phone was proof of how real Miquela is. The thing is that robots and IGC are real, there exists even a code that someone else has programmed, even if some do not occupy a physical space in the world. What, then, is the unreality of Miquela? Is she less real than us human beings? Miquela, like Bermuda, her Trump equivalent, has clear political positions and makes decisions. Brud is an especially mysterious company. The origin of Miquela is not known with certainty and the company has been in charge of keeping it as a very well kept secret. We know, although not with certainty, that Miquela can, at least, make decisions as a human being (she decided to accept that she is not a human being and decided to renounce Brud). If you have already had an identity crisis, we could assume that you not only have thoughts but also emotions, can Miquela fall in love? Is it possible to break her heart? The really scary thing is to think that there is no one behind Miquela, that she exists by herself.
There is, however, a clear line of unreality in her character. Since she is not a human being who lives and breathes, how can she complain, for example, about the heat she sometimes makes in Los Angeles? If you do not age or menstruate (last week, again, it was her 19th birthday), how much can your followers really identify with you? Your publications concerning these purely human and bodily issues would then be lies, unreal. His followers ask her about her routine of skin care to a person who never grows old or burns with the sun. Her political positions and her ideology could even be more real, if we imagine that she is an artificial intelligence that can already make decisions, than her publications about her body, which, in fact, does not exist. Miquela, in the end, is an IGC created by a group of men who operated her at least until a year ago.
How real are we?
This makes me think, on the other hand, how real are the other influencers that we see in social networks. Its existence is, at least for us their followers, purely virtual like that of Miquela. How much can we really identify with a family of women who are millionaires since adolescence and who have undergone surgery on the body and face? Are the Kardashians more real than Miquela? Unlike her, of course, they are human beings who fall in love and relate to others and who get sad, etc., something that sometimes their followers lose sight of. Celebrities are, without a doubt, human beings as their followers, but only the people close to them have evidence of that. For us, their followers, celebrities are all virtual.
This could go further: how real are we in the virtuality of social networks? Those who have not seen, only through our Instagram accounts, do not have proof of our humanity; for them, we exist only in virtuality. But is it virtual to be less real? Miquela will make us decide about it in the future.
LatinAmerican Post | Juliana Rodriguez
Translated from "Lil Miquela: la influencer que hace temblar nuestra noción de realidad"