File photograph displaying autographs of recording artists managed by SM Entertainment which adorn a checkout counter on the firm’s SMTown leisure complicated in Seoul, South Korea, on Oct. 2, 2015.
SeongJoon Cho | Bloomberg | Getty Images
One of South Korea’s newest woman bands has set its sights on the “future of entertainment,” launching its first single with each real-life members and their avatars.
æspa includes 4 real-life Korean pop stars – Karina, Winter, Ning Ning, and Giselle – along with their corresponding digital counterparts. They debuted on Nov. 17 with their first observe, “Black Mamba.”
SM Entertainment’s newest pop group is hoping these artificially clever (A.I.) digital idols might change into your subsequent finest good friend.
At this yr’s World Cultural Industry Forum, SM founder and chairman Lee Soo-man referred to as æspa “the beginning of the future of entertainment,” envisioning a world of real-life idols co-existing with digital avatars who can spend time with followers in ways in which human stars can’t.
The identify æspa refers to “Avatar x Experience” and “aspect,” and followers can anticipate “experiencing a new world via the encounter of the ‘avatar,’ your other self,” the corporate mentioned in a tweet.
“In the world of celebrities, big data-driven robots will play a significant role,” SM’s founder mentioned. “Most importantly, the development of A.I. technology will enable customized avatars to fit into peoples’ lives … Like a living person, like a friend.”
Fans will even get to generate a personalized avatar and work together with one another in a “supermassive virtual world,” he added, after enjoying a teaser suggesting this is able to happen by way of a smartphone software referred to as SYNK.
To specialists on South Korean popular culture, the chances for æspa are countless.
When actual idols get sick or burnt out resulting from powerful schedules, the digital idols can carry out and work together with followers on their behalf whereas they recuperate, mentioned Lee Hye-jin, a medical assistant professor on the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism within the University of Southern California (USC).
“I think what’s unique here is the amount of penetration into people’s everyday lives,” mentioned Professor James Patrick Williams, a cultural sociologist and social psychologist at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University.
“This is making massively multiplayer online music worlds,” he added, borrowing the gaming time period MMORPG, or massively multiplayer on-line role-playing sport, as an example how the corporate is attempting to create a digital world the place a number of customers can role-play and work together concurrently.
By utilizing its cell app to collect massive volumes of data, Williams speculated SM might examine followers’ on-line interactions to anticipate their wants and preferences, permitting the avatars to curate music ideas and even present emotional chat help.
However, specialists have additionally raised considerations about æspa’s digital strategy, which some say might create issues like hypersexualization and dangers for psychological well being and private privateness.
One such danger includes æspa’s photos being manipulated and transposed onto grownup actors’ faces in a apply referred to as deepfake pornography, mentioned Alberto Todeschini, a lecturer in synthetic intelligence on the University of California, Berkeley.
Deepfake is a type of expertise that employs A.I. and machine studying software program to control movies, photos and audio that may imitate an individual’s likeness and create a false narrative.
“People may feel less guilty using their images for these purposes and because these are virtual idols, they are not legally protected from digital sex crimes or sexual harassment,” defined Lee, the USC professor.
He additionally mentioned that æspa’s actual and digital personas are so intertwined that it might have an effect on the real-life members’ psychological well being.
Fans may evaluate real-life members to their eternally youthful, human error-free digital counterparts, she mentioned, which can worsen current pressures on idols to be excellent in appears and expertise.
Additionally, æspa’s idea might change into a “double-edged sword” with followers’ fixed entry to the avatars as a “stand-in” for his or her human idols, mentioned Williams.
“This could create a problematic set of relationships back when you meet the real celebrity that you may forget what the boundaries are,” he added.
Williams additionally raised considerations over how SM Entertainment will steadiness the burden of social duty with encouraging followers to construct an in depth relationship with the Ok-pop band’s real-life and digital members.
æspa’s followers – a lot of whom are nonetheless minors – might develop to speak in confidence to these avatars with regarding data like suicidal ideas, he mentioned, suggesting SM Entertainment might enter a bind over methods to deal with such delicate points.
æspa’s AI-led enterprise is simply one other step in Ok-pop’s evolution, and the coronavirus pandemic has solely accelerated the introduction of digitally mediated initiatives which were within the pipeline for a while, mentioned Williams.
With Covid-19 canceling dwell reveals and conferences with followers, Ok-pop businesses like SM noticed resounding success with livestreaming digital concert events, utilizing holograms and laptop graphics to deliver photos to life for an immersive live performance expertise.
Ok-pop celebrities additionally obtained inventive on social media. From livestreaming cooking reveals to music jamming classes, followers caught at dwelling anyplace on the earth might spend time with their idols and had been delighted to get unprecedented entry to the celebrities’ on a regular basis lives.
In a manner, æspa’s AI-centered idea couldn’t have been timelier.
However, specialists warn that it stays to be seen whether or not their success will likely be dampened when the pandemic eases and dwell occasions return.
“æspa is a test … (SM Entertainment is) going to play around with how much ae-Karina is a proxy for (the real-life) Karina… They will then start to roll out other kinds of avatars that may not even correspond to a real person,” Williams mentioned.
“There is a lot of evidence in gaming and entertainment that people invest significantly in virtual ‘others,'” he added.
However, Lee from USC was a bit of extra skeptical: “Technology is great — it’s great if you can use technology to enhance pleasure, but I feel like SM in a way (has) kind of lost what makes K-pop pleasurable.”
Ok-pop followers love celebrities not simply due to the music or the artistes’ performances, but additionally due to their humanity, relatability and fallibility, the professor mentioned.
“One thing that Covid-19 has taught us is that human beings crave relationships, human contact, and human connection more than ever. And that’s something technology cannot necessarily provide,” she added.