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Influencer Ex Machina

As virtual influencers such as Shudu and Lil Miquela start to build significant followings, the questions surrounding their potential impact are very real indeed.

Illustration by Spooky Pooka for WWD

There’s a new crop of influencers in town and, spoiler alert, they’re not real people.

Virtual influencers — influencers who are not human, but rather are digital creations or robots — are the latest to surface on social media, with Miquela Sousa, Shudu, Sophia the Robot, Bermuda and Blawko leading the pack. Sophia the Robot is, as her name suggests, an artificially intelligent robot who in October 2017, became the first robot in the world to be recognized as a citizen in Saudi Arabia. Shudu, who recently made her fashion editorial debut on the cover of WWD’s Digital Daily, is a digital avatar. Little is known about the nature of Miquela, Blawko and Bermuda, though they are thought to be avatars with anonymous creators.

The distinction between these influencers is important. Sophia and Shudu, for example, are completely different. As an artificially intelligent robot, Sophia can automate, learn and synthesize information, thus taking on a life of her own. She has interacted with real-life celebrities like Will Smith, Cristiano Ronaldo and Chrissy Teigen, and has posed for the covers of Cosmopolitan India and Elle Brazil. She currently has 69,000 followers on Instagram.

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