An expert's opinion about Alba Renai: “We are creating things that look like people and the problem is that it is very real”

It's been almost 10 years since Lil Miquela, the first virtual influencer, was born. Since then, technology has advanced a lot, so much so that we are faced with a presenter, Alba Renai, developed by artificial intelligence, a “presence” (so to speak) that speaks, interacts and has its own personality. But what is behind it?

To better understand the technology and its implications, we have spoken with Gema Fernández Blanco, professor at the University of Applied Sciences of Utrecht, Netherlands and affiliated researcher at the Center for Automation and Robotics of the Polytechnic University of Madrid.

The dilemma has been in the foreground for years, many longer than Lil Miquela. We could say that it began with an adaptation of the story The Futurology Congress by Stanisław Lem (the author of Solaris, among other classics), published back in 1971. In 2013, director Ari Folman was inspired by this work by the Polish author and premiered The congress. This film portrays an actress (played by Robin Wright) who signs a contract that the studios will make a copy of it and use it as they please.

The first steps to create a fictional character that looked like King Kong, for example, were taken thanks to the use of CGI images, those created by computer. “It is a technique that has been around for years, but it has advanced a lot – Fernández Blanco explains to us -. In this case, of Alba Renai, ChatGPT or a similar system would also have been used for the language, modifying characteristics so that it remains uniform and likes, for example, certain things. And then motion capture will have been used. Also an old technique, but one that has improved a lot.”

Fernández Blanco highlights that there are still things to improve, for example he has observed that the movement of the mouth is not perfect in terms of synchronization with his dialogues. But the presenter is just the tip of an iceberg.

“In Where this generates the most money is in the pornographic, for example, on Only Fans. And here there is an ethical part that is mixing people that do not exist with photographs that they use through generators like ChatGPT or MidJourney, which are trained with real people. I'm not sure who owns it. intellectual, if it is the program, the word processor, or if it has copyright or the software. It is not clear to me that this type of rights is defined.”

And then there is a much deeper debate. Alba Renai is just an anecdote in an entertainment program, but it is a step towards something much greater, in terms of weight, influence and impact in society. “At the level of ethical dilemma – confirms Fernández Blanco – the question is what is the difference between truth and lies? We give a human characteristics and responsibilities of humans. On the other hand, when we see a machine or an avatar we do not grant it reality or responsibility. It's like a puppet, only as technology advances, we won't see a puppet anymore. Is left over very little so that we cannot distinguish between a human and an avatar”.

This expert in technology and its possible uses (and abuses) also highlights that when creating this type of characters “the biases applied are usually very stereotypical”. In short, we see the female figure that until a few years ago was a common attraction for selling beauty or fashion products. And it's no wonder it ends up on Only Fans. And here we return to rights: who owns them? To this we must add that in a few years the technology will advance even more thanks to the fact that Alba is constantly under training: the more she learns from the team that develops it and what is asked of her, the more real she will seem to our eyes.

“We are creating things that look like people – concludes Fernández Blanco -, when we do not know how to distinguish, we are going to give responsibility, knowledge and capabilities that usually only correspond to humans. I imagine that, at the level of an extra, as in this case of Survivors, they seem interesting to me, but a lot will depend on the level of acceptance. If people will refuse to see news presented by a machine, it will not prevail.”