Virtual or real talent? Does it matter?

When I referenced this story (in last week’s newsletter) about Warner Music signing a virtual pop artist in China I did not expect a connection to EY to crop up. What might a software generated pop star have to do with a professional services firm?

The record label exec, in the first story, does a good job of describing Ha Jiang as a three-dimensional artistic endeavour: “There’s a deep connection between Ha Jiang and her growing and very passionate fan-base” apparently. Despite the rhetoric about creative development and moving with audience trends, one does not need to scratch too hard to reveal a more cynical motive. A ‘virtual idol’ reduces the risk and expense of artist discovery and development. The star can be whoever the label want them to be and change them as needed. As they wane, a new star can be born swiftly and at modest expense.

The recording industry has a long history of manufactured acts, selected and created by executives, with their songs, style and personalities created in various forms of media. As they tire and human frailties are revealed, the industry moves on, driving smoothly away from the wreckage. Ha Jiang avoids many of these complications. As the label exec says “…our projects for ‘virtual idols’ will create opportunities for humans too. We’ll be working with great songwriters, engineers and producers to help create their music.” Essentially, this is no different to the current situation in the recording industry, although those songwriters and producers will now work with software performers entirely. (Moving way beyond the autotune influence on, erm, talent). Does it matter, I wonder?

Meanwhile, over at EY, senior executives are using deepfake style videos of themselves to add a little spicy gimmickry to their pitches and client communications. AI avatars are created of EY staff and used to create video elements of presentations or communications. The pandemic has curtailed all of the face to face relationship building on which the value of partnership rests.

There is no pretence that these are real videos. Whilst the deepfakery roots of this technology is based on subterfuge, EY are clear that the avatars are not intended as anything that they are not. Those partners who are using them (not many, so far) spend about 40 minutes reading a script to capture the audio and video required. From there, a text file is used to create their message. No additional filming required. So, it is efficient.

I am unsure what to make of this. I suspect many at EY are as well. One relative certainty is the increase in these kinds of ARI personas (artificial reality identity, in EY parlance) over time in all walks of life. Gradually, we will see more of them in commercial media and working life. We pay so little attention to the media on our social feeds already. The difference between ARI and real folks will be harder to spot. In the context of screen based communication at work, the boundaries will blur further. Meet your virtual boss – same as the old boss?

Closer to home, this might make compliance eLearning production simpler and quicker. Imagine. 40 minutes filming a subject matter expert and then type up the script. Your SME can be whoever you want them to be (a virtual SME idol). Bob’s your virtual uncle.

Virtual ops star Hi Jiang sitting in a recording studio.
Virtual idol or professional services partner?

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