The Jobs AI is Replacing

From a recent article in Vogue titled I am a Model and I Know That Artificial Intelligence Will Eventually Take My Job:

Digital models and influencers are successfully breaking into the fashion industry from every angle. Some have even been signed to traditional modeling agencies. Take Miquela Sousa, a 19-year-old Brazilian American model, influencer, and now musician, who has amassed a loyal following of more than 2 million people on Instagram.

This is not a segment I expected AI to cover so soon. First, there’s the uncanny valley (and looking at Miquela, it’s clear they haven’t crossed it). There are also the practices of a decades old industry, with fashion shows and fashion shoots, involving not just models but a larger ecosystem with photographers, fashion designers, etc. And then there’s the aspect of who the models represent and what they stand for:

There are major issues of transparency and authenticity here because the beliefs and opinions don’t actually belong to the digital models, they belong to the models’ creators. And if the creators can’t actually identify with the experiences and groups that these models claim to belong to (i.e., person of color, LGBTQ, etc.), then do they have the right to actually speak on those issues? Or is this a new form of robot cultural appropriation, one in which digital creators are dressing up in experiences that aren’t theirs?

Miquela

The digital approach has its advantages, and these have been amplified by the environment created by Covid-19:

The COVID-19 pandemic has directly highlighted the need for these types of digital solutions. Anifa Mvuemba, a fashion designer and creative director for Hanifa, a contemporary ready-to-wear apparel line for women, recently made headlines when she launched her collection on Instagram Live using 3D models on a virtual catwalk. 

The AI wave is here, and it will affect more kinds of jobs than we imagine today. To understand and deal with its impact, we need to move away from stereotypes (like truck drivers losing their jobs to self-driving trucks) and statistics and look instead at specific instances like the one above. Each instance will bring its own challenges (and opportunities, perhaps). Each instance will also help us understand what humans can do better and (this is unfortunate but has to be said) help us redefine ourselves to differentiate from (and in some cases co-opt) our AI counterparts. As the author, a model herself, writes:

So what does all of this mean for living and breathing models? It’s safe to say that we will have to prepare for a changing workforce just like everyone else. We will have to exercise skills such as adaptability and creative intelligence to ensure that we too can sustain the shift to digital. Edwards-Morel, the 3D fashion design expert, advised me to look into creating a digital avatar of myself.

This instance also shows how fast we are moving towards replacing real life experiences with their digital twins. Humans have been confusing the representation of a thing with the thing itself for a long time. Writing in 1967 about the rising consumer culture, the French philosopher Guy Debord said: “In societies dominated by modern conditions of production, life is presented as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has receded into a representation.”

The trend is only going to intensify as representations become more life-like and assume intelligent traits. The boundary between our real lives and those second lives are inevitably going to blur.