radical Insights.

Weekly Research and Commentary on the Future of Business and Technology.

The Rise of Virtual Influencers.

Sep 19, 2023

In 2016, Trevor McFedries and Sara DeCou introduced the world to a 19-year-old Brazilian-American virtual persona they named “Miquela.” This isn’t a tale about miraculous conception or medical wonders, but rather the inception story of one of today’s most influential virtual influencers, also known as Lil Miquela.

A digital entity designed to be forever 19, immune to bad hair days, boasting flawless skin and a sense of irreverent humor, Miquela quickly amassed 2.7 million Instagram followers. Created by McFedries and DeCou’s digital agency Brud, she has graced the cover of Vogue, become a spokesperson for teen retailer PacSun, and raked in an impressive $10 million in 2020 alone.

Here at be radical, we’ve been tracking Lil Miquela’s rise for a while. We’ve explored her unique attributes, such as her ability to work tirelessly 24/7, appear globally instantaneously, and even exist in multiple places simultaneously. We went even so far and commissioned a very talented young Mexican artist (who is equally obsessed with Miquela and featured her in many of her works) to paint us a Miquela tribute in oil (if that peaked your interest, here it is, it now hangs in our home office). Our predictions have long foreseen a surge in similar virtual avatars, a forecast now gaining traction—from Swedish popband ABBA performing in front of sold out crowds in London to Warner Music’s signing of a fully synthetic music star, Noonoori, and AI-humanoid news anchors in India.

So, why now? The answer lies in the convergence of technology advances, from game engines like Unity to leaps in generative AI for image, audio, and video, alongside plummeting computation costs and increasingly user-friendly tools.

As for the “so what” of it all, the implications are profound. We’re on the cusp of seeing more virtual celebrities in all content forms, from fashion to film. Virtual doctors, therapists, and even daily interactive avatars could soon become our norm. And we will see virtual, human-like avatars becoming the face of our devices—where we used to have the disembodied voice of Alexa and Siri talk to us, we will have our personal version of Miquela interact with us. You can see this vision come to live in Apple’s 1987 (!) demo for the Knowledge Navigator.

It’s a thrilling yet uncanny future unfolding, one where our devices become significantly more personal, relatable, and, to an extent, peculiar. So, brace yourself for a little uncanny valley as we journey toward this new reality. (via Pascal)