Meta AI Launches This Month’s Featured Flavor of Techno-Dystopia and It’s a Kendall Jenner Chatbot

AI celebrity Naomi Osaka speaking in front of green background (l) AI celebrity Kendall Jenner speaking in front of tan background with caption "I am here to chat whenever you want" (c) AI celebrity Tom Brady speaking in front of blue background (r)
thisisevolve/Instagram | Remixed by Caterina Cox

It’s been a tough week. I don’t know how other people are coping, but not since September 11th have I felt such sickening dread upon waking up every morning. I don’t want to say anything publicly — well scratch that, I very much do – but fear losing friends, followers, and yes, the passive income of my remaining Patreon subscribers. (Much love to all 13 of you, including mom.)

Thankfully, Meta has come up with a solution to this very problem, just in time: Meta AI is now a feature on both Facebook and Instagram that allows you to chat with your favorite influencer…’s AI alter-ego. That’s right, we’ve crossed the “Black Mirror” rubicon and not a moment too soon, in my opinion. Selfless heroes Kendall Jenner and Charli D’Amelio sacrificed whole hours of their time to sit in a recording studio for millions of dollars just so we can all finally indulge our worst parasocial media habits with an AI-generated chatbot. But not any chatbot: an OFFICIAL chatbot, with a timeline of your favorite Internet content creator’s deepfakes that has been officially approved and licensed! So that’s fun!

These fictionalized AI versions of your favorite Internet celebrity will respond, 24/7! That’s what they are literally built for.

Seriously: Tell them your dreams, your secrets, your fears, your mother’s maiden name, your social security number.  They won’t judge you. They’re not even AI versions of themselves, but rather “Personas” whose distinct character traits serve as some kind of meta (Meta?) ironic commentary. Kendall Jenner is yoursisbillie, an older sister/confidant who has always got your back, which is different than in real life, where I’m pretty sure she’s one of the younger ones. Youngest? Who knows, I’m not venturing back from my Internet sabbatical to fact-check Jenner-Kardashian lineage. You guys do your own research.

MrBeast is comedyzach, the “big brother who is always here for all the jokes, the banter and not the feels,” which is how we know this is a pretend person and not the ACTUAL MrBeast, who has famously never said anything remotely funny, ever. Paris Hilton is amberthedetective who is “on the case🕵️‍♀️🔎.” Actually, that one is perfect, no notes. Snoop Dogg is meethedungeonmaster, whereas in real life, Snoop Dogg thinks Dungeons & Dragons is for dorks. 

I can sort of squint and see the appeal: we’ve made peace with the cognitive dissonance required for influencers to exist in the first place, and if starring in our own pseudo-IRL fan fiction isn’t making good on the Internet’s futuristic sci-fi promise, then I don’t know what will. (If memory serves, not crypto, NFTs, Bored Apes, or hanging out in the Metaverse, sans legs). Consuming content is intimacy aspartame; not a market substitute, doesn’t taste the same, deteriorating our health… but there’s a reason why I’m sitting here trying to make a belabored metaphor while staring at this Diet Canada Dry. 

Add to that layer of headiness the fact that these AI influencers are different “characters” than their IRL counterparts, which forces us to acknowledge that we understand influencer persona’s as a role they play, and have no problem accepting them going by a different name and talking completely differently, as long as we can stare at their profile photo and imagine its MrBeast talking to us. 

But I have some concerns, and a lot of questions. Questions like: why do these characters get billed as your older sibling? What does that do for us, as fans? Thinking that people want to interact with AI pretending to be influencers pretending to be an older sister who only exclusively talks to them through Instagram is the single worst case of millennial mindworms I’ve seen in a hot minute. 

But that’s just the superficial stuff: what’s really concerning is the implications for users of Meta’s social platforms. While these weblebrities got paid obscene amounts of money for a finite two year contract as a Persona, Meta’s already gone and announced the loud part out loud: the goal here is for EVERYONE to soon have their own digital avatar, not just the rich and famous and technically not scabbing, I guess, since social media is not a struck studio. But seeing as how SAG is fighting at this very moment for contract protections against the ability for a company being able to own their digital likeness for AI replication in perpetuity, the mega-influencer deal brokered for the initial Personas roll-out obviously flies in the face of the strike’s spirit, if not literal letter of the law. 

The problem is, there’s precedent for the AI influencer bait-and-switch for compensating creators. That’s what happened over at Fanhouse, an Patreon/OnlyFans comp whose story plays out like every cautionary tale of aughts startups: founded by creators, the company was successful and solvent right up until it took on $20 million in Series A funding from Andreessen Horowitz in 2020. Under pressure from its investors to deliver exponential growth, Fanhouse began quietly testing out other products. One happened to be AI content, which the platform trained using top creators that were paid to create virtual versions of themselves. Those avatars, it was pitched, could then be used by the creators themselves to generate extra income in the form of bonus content. What could go wrong?

A lot, actually. Co-founder Rosie Nguyen announced her resignation via shade-filled Twitter thread mere hours before it was announced that Fanhouse had been sold to a company called Passes, which got rid of Fanhouse’s terms and services. For users who hadn’t been approached to work with Fanhouse’s AI side project, there was a well-founded concern about Passes and its founder Lucy Guo. There was also, after the Fanhouse sale, no way for users to opt-out of the service. Understandably, creators felt this to be a huge violation, as there was now the potential for Passes to use their likeness to create AI nude dupes, performing endlessly in any manner of NSFW content, without compensation or consent.

In no reality does Mark Zuckerberg, the greatest information scraper of our era, not look at the Fanhouse experiment and say: yes. He’s already doing it. He’s telling you it’s being done. You can talk to billie or zack right now and see the proof is in the digital pudding. This is the realization of our science-fiction Internet. That it’s bad is a given, what’s worse is how insipid and stupid our timeline’s version of even a techno-dystopia turned out to be. Vapid. No Neos in site. I didn’t even get to learn kung-fu. 

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