The Future of Manufactured Idols: Update


I like to think that if I’d seen AKB48’s newest member Aimi Eguchi (江口 愛実) when she debuted, that I’d immediately have been able to tell that she was actually computer-generated. But I’m not so sure: whereas it’s pretty obvious in most of the shots here and here, I would never have noticed anything unusual about that ad above (all the members look quite fake!), nor that this and this picture weren’t of a real person.

It’s a little more obvious in the commercial itself though:

Thanks very much to @Septemberlena for letting me know about her. Unlike Hatsune Miku (初音ミク) that I wrote about two weeks ago, who very much resembles an anime character despite the impressive technology behind her, unfortunately such photorealistic idols clearly have a huge potential to insidiously affect teens’ body images. Especially when coming from a group as popular as ABK48.


Hatsune Miku: The Future of Manufactured Idols?


What’s the first thing that goes through your mind, when you hear that over 3000 people at a time are attending concerts performed by a hologram?

If you’re a fellow science-fiction fan, then possibly this scene from chapter sixty-nine of Snow Crash (1992), Neal Stephenson’s cyperpunk classic (and where we get the word “avatar” from):

…[the light show] begins to simplify itself and narrow into a single bright column of light. By this point, it is the music that is carrying the show: a pounding bass beat and a deep threatening ostinato that tells everyone to keep watching, the best is yet to come. And everyone does watch. Religiously.

The column of light begins to flow up and down and resolve itself into a human form. Actually, it is four human forms, female nudes standing shoulder to shoulder, facing outward, like caryatids. Each of them is carrying a something long and slender in her hands: a pair of tubes.

A third of a million hackers stare at the women, towering above the stage, as they raise their arms above their heads and unroll the four scrolls, turning each one them into a flat television screen the size of a football field…

The reality however, is rather different. But Hatsune Miku (初音ミク) is no less impressive for all that:

Or rather, the technology behind “her” is. As the notes to that video put it:

Japan’s newest singing sensation is a… Hologram. No, that’s not a typo! It’s amazing where technology is headed these days! Over in Japan Cryton Future Media is actually starting projector concerts using a actual live band to compliment their virtual vocaloid idols like Hatsune Miku. Regardless of being a Hatsune Miku fan or not, just seeing what technology can accomplish is just amazing. While this technically isn’t a ‘true’ hologram (one where light actually takes up volumetric space rather than just a planar surface) like the one we’ve all seen of in Star Wars, it is still nevertheless quite impressive how real this appears!

Still, as author of this blog(!), it behooves me to ponder some of the negative social consequences as the technology improves, especially once the virtual idols become photo-realistic. Indeed, Hatsune Miku aside, it’s already entirely possible that when my daughters are in their late-teens or early-twenties, they’ll feel compelled to compare their bodies with – and be compared to – impossibly perfect computer-generated body shapes. But if those happen belong to the hottest (virtual) girl-groups in K-pop too?

But wait a minute…women being encouraged to aspire to body-shapes that it’s physically impossible for human females to achieve? Hell, that’s already happening!

Update 1 – Edurne mentions that the movie S1m0ne explored these themes way back in 2002:

Update 2 – As it turns out, a photo-realistic member of a (Japanese) girl-group was actually created back in June!