Could AI Digital Clones Stop Creator Burnout?

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Earlier this week, the Guardian published a piece on how Chinese influencers are using AI digital clones of themselves to pump out content. The demand for AI clones has led a number of AI startups to begin selling digital avatars to influencers and media companies. “Silicon Intelligence, based in Nanjing, can generate a basic AI clone for as little as 8,000 yuan (a little over $1,000),” per the Guardian. “The company only needs one minute of footage of a human being to train a virtual livestreamer.”

The focus of that piece was on Taiwanese influencer Chen Yiru, who live streamed footage of himself eating chicken feet for 15 hours. Chen has nearly nine million fans on social media platform Weibo. Many of them were impressed with the feat until some started to question if it was even possible. Once they learned that the video was AI, Chen reportedly lost more than 7,000 followers in two days. But this was hardly the first time a creator has turned to AI to help them generate content.

In July of this year, gaming creator Jordi van den Bussche, better known as Kwebbelkop, announced on Instagram that he’d trained an AI avatar to make YouTube videos for him. He told Wired that the labor of creating content for his YouTube channel — coming up with video ideas, shooting them, distributing them — had made it so that he could never take a vacation. Otherwise, van den Bussche said, “my entire business would stop.”

In short, like Chen, van den Bussche had come up against the inevitable burnout that plagues all creators and he needed to find a solution. “I’m retired from being an influencer,” he told Wired. “I’ve had a lovely career. I had a lot of fun. I want to take things to the next level. And that means making this brand live on forever.”

Initially, van den Bussche’s AI salve was met with similar backlash. “One of the arguments I kept hearing over and over is that they wanted to see me. The real me,” van den Bussche told Michigan Daily. This led to the introduction of his next endeavor: an AI version of his real likeness called the “Kwebbelkop 2.0 model.” And according to his recent post on X, van den Bussche’s AI version of his likeness has helped the creator reach “100M+ views per month.”

Both instances are a good indication of where content creation is moving. With more and more creators realizing that 24/7 isn’t a sustainable work output, there’s little stopping them from reaching for AI tools. Especially at a time when the limits of what AI can do are receding.

You might even remember that just a few months before van den Bussche’s AI avatar, 23-year-old Caryn Majorie, an influencer with more than 2 million followers on Snapchat, created a voice-based chatbot, CarynAI. In Majorie’s case, she needed a program to chat with her more than 1,000 “boyfriends.” Not long after the launch, the number of Majorie’s “boyfriends” allegedly grew to 20,000.

Sure, there is a less interesting philosophical question about using AI to generate more content: Would we value the great artists of the past if their work was endless and created by a program rather than a human being? I suspect the answer is that we wouldn’t.

But the more compelling issue is, whether creators utilizing AI to combat burnout is more sustainable to the creator economy or less. Sure, some of the big-name creators will ride the AI train until it crashes. And who can blame them? But for everyone else — lower tier creators — this trend seems to guarantee diminishing returns in the near future. 

AI might be able to supplement the content creation process and increase a creator’s output. It might even help allay some of the current pressure of having to work overtime just to stay relevant. But if van den Bussche and Majorie have proven anything it’s that people are willing to tune in and pay attention to a robot.

In other words, they’ve delivered a viable proof of concept for the future of content creation. One that you can guarantee brands are paying attention to. And once AI clones become just as lucrative as human creators, what’s stopping brands from putting more money into developing virtual influencers than brand partnerships with actual human creators?

What is your experience with AI clones? Email [email protected] to share your story.

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