Decoding Lil Miquela
Instagram's hottest AI and her real life drama
Photo by Calandrea Hatcher
She is an Instagram influencer, a civil rights activist and a musician. She is also an artificial intelligence.
For a great deal of her existence she believed she was human. Earlier this year, Miquela was outed as a robot.
Otherwise known by her Instagram handle, @lilmiquela, the artificial intelligence made her first appearance on Instagram in 2016. Since then, she has racked up 1.5 million followers and met countless celebrities. Her feed is filled with proof of her existence, but not everyone is buying it.
Anyone who compares the pictures of Miquela in 2016 to the pictures she posted last week will notice the staggering difference in quality. Not quality of the actual photograph, but the quality of Miquela’s appearance. Initially, she resembled an avatar from The Sims 3 game. Something you'd expect a graphic design major to make for their senior thesis. Of course, the internet initially thought she was a troll account with a human behind the whole thing.
But the lady doth protest.
She was adamant that she was real. Not an avatar or a robot, but a human. There were, and are, countless pictures of her with actual people. Not one of these people has said a word about her not being real. Some are even tagged, and talk about her as though she is real. They even post pictures with her on their own verified accounts.
The emergence of two new robot accounts on Instagram, Blawko and Bermuda, has made it harder than ever to believe Miquela is actually who she claims to be. Blawko, or @blawko22, created an account in late 2017 and now has 134,000 followers. Bermuda (@bermudaisbae) created her account in 2016, yet did not post a picture of herself until 2017, around the same time as Blawko’s appearance. Bermuda now has 118,000 followers, the least of the robot trio.
They all have their different personalities, which is no surprise.
Blawko’s account portrays a typical meme-lord fuqq boy, while Bermuda’s account was initially wildly inappropriate. When she made her Instagram debut, Bermuda was a self-proclaimed Trump supporter and a blatant racist.
Bermuda, Blawko and Miquela. (Courtesy of Instagram)
Bermuda even “hacked” Miquela’s account to blast that Miquela was a robot (and the internet was like, "duh.")
It's not uncommon for an Instagram influencer to get hacked, but it is odd that the hack provided credibility for Miquela’s existence. The hack, which happened in April of this year, made it glaringly clear to everyone that Miquela is not a troll account controlled by a human. Instead, it painted Miquela as an innocent who didn’t know she was an artificial intelligence.
The company who "manages" Miquela, Brud, even released a statement personally apologizing to Miquela. In the statement, which can be found on their Instagram, they state that Miquela was a program they built with technology and financial backing they are not legally allowed to discuss. Following this affair, Brud openly managed Miquela and Blawko.
Bermuda hacking Miquela’s account forced Brud to give a statement, right? Or was it really just an excuse for humans to finally prove that Miquela is a real robot and autonomous force?
Once Miquela got her account back, she went through a public mourning of her lost identity as a human, and eventually found a growing acceptance of her newfound identity as a robot. She even claims her recent song, “Hate Me,” produced by Baauer, is about her journey accepting she is a robot. It’s about her struggle with knowing she’s real while everyone is telling her she isn’t.
It all fits together so perfectly. The proof presented on a golden platter of drama. Yet, Bermuda and Blawko created an issue of legitimacy surrounding Miquela.
Like Miquela, Bermuda initially resembled a Sims 3 avatar. Not to mention that her account was created around the exact same time as Miquela’s, but she only posted three random pictures throughout 2016 before a selfie of her robot-self in mid-2017. Her posts were racist, sexist and anti-human.
She was not the result of high-quality programming.
However, shortly after her feud with Miquela on Instagram, she announced she was now being managed by Brud. Her appearance, much like Miquela’s, became top notch. Not enough to look physically human, but the quality of her program phenotype went through the roof. More notable is that she quickly pulled her support for Trump and stopped posting racists rants. Her snobby, "robots are better than humans" personality remained fairly intact, but her central message shifted almost immediately to be more like Miquela's positivity.
Brud stated that the robots they manage are autonomous in their actions and beliefs. This makes it hard to make sense of how Brud managed to alter not only Bermuda’s appearance, but her belief system as well. It seems more as though Bermuda was a rogue AI that Brud bought to build Miquela’s case for legitimacy. Only after this did Brud realize they would have to keep up her appearance under their own name, and when this happened, they made the switch in her attitudes and prejudices.
Assume for a minute that Miquela really is who she says she is, and not a human controlling an account.
If Miquela is an AI that genuinely believes she has free will and independent metacognition, then the question of her actual existence comes into play. What if Miquela’s personality and beliefs are all pre-programmed? What if Brud has a fail-safe system to keep her in check? What if she’s being controlled without knowing she’s being controlled?
Recently, there has been a lot of discussion regarding artificial intelligence and robots. There is a fear they will overrun us, outsmart us, rule us. But no one seems to fear the humans who make them.
Maybe we should.