Man - Avatar! Thoughts on the avatization of society

Published on 23.12.2022 | Translations available in: German

Man - Avatar! Thoughts on the avatization of society

Many people have encountered countless avatars on social media channels. Aileen Zumstein is no exception. As we increasingly seek out digital forms of self-expression in the future, it's important that we address some key questions that run along with these developments, says Aileen.

How is your situation? Have you uploaded a few selfies on Lensa and let yourself be transformed into an avatar? Or more precisely, into a hundred avatars? Into a hundred adventurous, playful, futuristic, disreputable and abstract versions of yourself?

Aileen by Lensa

Were you surprised, intrigued, amused at first, and now, after a few days, you're troubled by reports that the app oversexualizes women and steals artists' intellectual property? Then we are in the same position. Because if artificial intelligence is clumsily reproducing sexist gender stereotypes and committing art theft, that's an intolerable assault and a clear no-go.

But I have another question: why does a clone-copier like Lensa work at all? Why do people hundreds of thousands of times - including me - simply put their likeness into an artificially intelligent random generator, only to meet themselves in the most different versions? Or to put it another way: Why don't we automatically assume that such a reproduction algorithm will produce interpretations of ourselves that we might not like?

The answer, in my opinion, lies in a natural human trait (which we have been using in communication since a very long time): the human desire to be a better, more successful, more desirable version of her/him/itself. The clothes we wear, the cars we drive (or no longer drive), the bodies we train, the apps that urge us to get more sleep, be more mindful, eat fewer calories, the bestsellers that drive us into yoga classes and ice baths at the crack of dawn - all tools that promise us that the better us really does exist - and that it is waiting for us with open arms just around the corner.

Another Aileen by Lensa

But is it problematic that we are like this? Have we all just blindly fallen again into a gigantically staged self-optimization trap (by whomever) where, far from our original selves, we will gain nothing but the conviction of not being enough as an original? Well: we are people of our time. People who, with the technical possibilities of their time, simply follow their genetic program and always want to become the better version of themselves when the opportunity presents itself. And that - as an important driver of progress - is not to be complained about in principle.

Of course, the prospect that we might be sitting in digital meetings with superheroes, tribal lords, elves or astronauts more often in the future still takes some getting used to. But if the real people behind the characters choose their avatars of their own free will and the technology that generates them follows ethical principles, why not? The current and justified concerns about Lensa also show: dangers, misdemeanors, transgressions are still quickly localized and widely discussed by us flesh-and-blood humans. Good thing. Because this public discourse will ultimately also significantly shape the further developments of such AIs. My thoughts have appeared on the blog of Persoenlich.

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