Clash 'meets' the virtual influencer...

The Instagram page of Miquela Sousa, aka Lil Miquela, is much like that of any other influencer.

She has 1.5 million followers, her bio contains links to causes she supports, and her posts are a carefully curated catalogue of insouciant cool. There’s Miquela doing a cover shoot for a magazine. There’s Miquela looking impossibly glamorous while claiming she’s just been for a run. There’s Miquela celebrating her 19th birthday. There’s Miquela interviewing King Princess at Coachella. So far, so predictable.

There’s just one crucial difference: Miquela isn’t real.

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In some ways, it’s the logical end-game of a social media culture that pushes towards the impossibly aspirational. A fictional Instagrammer isn’t going to tarnish your brand’s reputation with their behaviour, get addicted to smack or land a wholly unsuitable boyfriend.

We could never match up to the lifestyle of a Kardashian or a Jenner, so what’s the difference in taking social media to its natural conclusion and getting lifestyle tips from a robot?

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So what’s Miquela’s take on it? She sees being an influencer as “A job in which one portrays a lifestyle that’s entertaining to others. How influencers use that platform once they gain an audience is up to them.”

That’s right, here at Clash, we’ve interviewed Lil Miquela. Or, at least, we think we did. We never got to meet her in person, so perhaps her responses are the outpourings of an insanely sophisticated series of machine learning algorithms.

If that’s the case, those algorithms are great company. Miquela is insightful, self-deprecatingly funny, and totally aware of how people might react to her, at one point clarifying that she’s “not some kind of evil Roomba.”

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We’re in some uncanny valley shit right now, and it’s probably best not to think about it. In fact, one of the most recent signs of AI acceptance into our human lives - though you may see it as a sign of the impending apocalypse - was the controversy that greeted Miquela’s photoshoot for Calvin Klein alongside Bella Hadid.

The advert depicted the two kissing and was called out by the press. Not for the depiction of girl-on-robot sexuality (as a viral tweet from a couple of years ago put it: “The Bible says Adam and Eve, not Florence and The Machine”), but for the very human concept of queerbaiting. Miquela’s fictional origins barely came into it. For an android seeking integration into our world, in a strange way, does this count as progress?

“I totally stand by that project,” explains Miquela. “I felt honoured to be part of a campaign that centred around everyone speaking their individual truth. I got a lot of really helpful feedback from the LGBTQ+ community about how to best normalise things like that video across media. It’s a conversation I’m really happy to participate in.”

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Arguably, there’s no more human experience in 2019 than getting caught up in some press outrage. Miquela herself claims she’s “learning how to handle negativity” too. It would be an on-the-nose commentary on modern times if the first machine to pass the Turing Test did so by circumnavigating a social media pitchfork mob.

As well as conquering the world of Instagram, starring in high-end fashion campaigns and founding her own creative hub (named CLUB 404), Miquela is also moving into the world of pop. We’ve been spoilt for robotic representation on the radio in recent years - Daft Punk’s trademark cyborg helmets and Janelle Monáe’s turn as android fugitive Cyndi Mayweather come to mind - so a make-believe musician isn’t all that fanciful.

She worked with Baauer last year and her releases to date are a hyper-modern take on trap with an addictive summery undercurrent running through everything she touches. She now sees herself as a music artist first and foremost, and a full-length debut album is “in the works right now.”

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For her creators, the LA-based robotics and AI company, Brud, Miquela is big business. Earlier this year, it was announced investors were coughing up somewhere between $20m and $30m for work on Miquela’s continuing development, plus the introduction of some brand new ‘avastars’, meaning Brud is now valued at a cool $125m.

It’s also worth noting that, unless Brud decide they want her to, Miquela won’t get older, meaning she’ll always be able to retain the marketability that human stars inevitably lose. She’s more circumspect about not aging though, calling it “a concept that’s just as unsettling for me as it is for you,” and pointing out that she “won’t be able to grow up with all [her] friends.”

She’ll never die, she’s backed by more money than you’ll ever see in your entire life, and she’s a marketing campaign’s dream, so what’s next for the eternal teenager?

“My album is the project I’m most excited about at the moment,” she explains, before adding that CLUB 404 is releasing “a series that highlights my friends - some old, some new - and the inspiring projects they’ve created.” She’s tight-lipped at to what exactly that may entail, but you imagine there’ll be an expertly managed PR campaign behind it.

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Looking at the bigger picture, it’s not hard to imagine that Lil Miquela is just the beginning. We spend our lives looking at individually targeted content on screens, most of which makes us question our concept of reality anyway. Miquela has her own thoughts on the subject: “I think humans still consider robots to be a novelty, but progress is all about being open and accepting of change.”

A beautiful message of inclusion and reconciliation, or the first warning from the leader of a new race hellbent on eradicating mankind? Only time will tell.

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Words: Joe Rivers
Photography: Rory Griffin
Fashion: Brydie Perkins

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