models and entertainers may get automated, but not how you might think…
When you look at a low resolution picture of Shudu from a distance, she seems like a glamorous supermodel. Maybe a tad too airbrushed and touched up, though that’s not unusual for many ads, illustrations, and magazine covers today. But a closer look at a higher resolution quickly shows that she’s not human, but a digital creation used to help sell the concept of using avatars like her to model fashion collections. Unlike fashion magazine headlines will tell you, she and her counterparts aren’t taking the modeling world by storm quite yet, and their online followings, while significant, pale in comparison to that of human influencers, likely with a major curiosity factor working for them because they’re the first.
So, if you were concerned about a world where perfect digital people sell real products to real humans, who often might not be able to afford them, like in some sort of dystopian cyberpunk novel made real, don’t be. They are just experiments. But a company called Looklet is taking these virtual ideas in an interesting and new direction, relying on real models whose bodies are scanned to create perfect replicas in the form of green mannequins, dress them in clothing in front of a green screen, and with the power of the latest generation of compositing and image editing software, produce the perfect modeling and glamour shots in whatever outfit the client wants without actually having to do a photo shoot.
Essentially, the principle here is to take out the unpredictable human element and simplify the logistics of a very commoditized industry that didn’t have the technology to do it before. In a way, they’re just licensing a model’s looks, doing an extremely extensive shoot one or twice to get every angle, pose, and expression they might need, then assembling the pieces into the final product. Even completely virtual models are still inspired by human looks. Shudu seems to be based on Zara Mohamed Abdulmajid, Duckie, and apparently, a Barbie doll. Her digital counterpart Miquela bears an uncanny similarity to Emily Bador. Models, it seems, aren’t exactly on their way out, but their job is about to be profoundly altered by encroaching automation.
And this is an important thing to keep in mind going forward. No job that doesn’t require either creating AIs or managing the output of countless machines and their applications, is safe. As we lurch into the future, we have to ignore our elders’ lectures about how the world is or supposed to be. Back in their heyday, the technology we just covered seemed like fanciful science fiction, and 30 years of 9 to 5 shifts at the factory or the office managing that factory were considered guaranteed for the next few centuries, at least. If the robots did take over, The Jetsons assured them, it wouldn’t be the at expense of human jobs, they would just end up with four day weeks and shorter days as they machines to all the grunt work.
Of course, today we know that none of this happened because the current powers that be can’t imagine people not having to work a set number of hours per week, and don’t seem to have any interest in improving training and education to help those who lose their jobs to computers and robots. They can’t understand that someone’s job could be made obsolete with no other option for employment readily available. But if even something like the way we look can be captured, packaged, and commoditized without us lifting a finger, all through the use of a few programs and cameras, we really need to rethink what employment of the future will entail and how we’ll make money off it.