A Step Towards Idoru?

Hatsune Miku is a completely virtual Japanese pop star. She began as a piece of music software powered by Yamaha’s VOCALOID technology that takes text input and converts it into synthesized singing. Developed by Crypton Future Media, the virtual singer with a cartoon face began to take on new life as fans remixed her music, created videos, and propagated their own drawings of the anime-ish idol.

Recently the virtual pop-star burst into the international press by taking a 3-dimensional form and appearing on-stage as a holographic projection as part of an international stadium tour. YouTube videos of thronging fans waving glowsticks while the young Idoru danced and sang began to generate global interest in the phenomena. Since then Miku’s music has topped the Japanese charts, she’s established a large Facebook following, and has garnered enough response that Crypton now plans to make an English Hakune Miku.

Of course, Miku is entirely pre-programmed and scripted – a far cry from William Gibson’s autonomous & sentient Idoru. Nevertheless, her sudden popularity suggests a growing acceptance of – or at least a present fascination with – the idea of a wholly virtual actor taking to the world stage. While the pop-star may not have any sense of self at the moment, her development has been driven by her fans encouraging Crypton to give her more and more features. Her makers now refer to the “Hatsune Miku movement” noting the large social graph growing around her, spawning meet-ups and fan clubs and countless websites. It remains to be seen whether this popularity translates to western audiences or will remain as another unique product of the Asian mind.

Virtual actors are not especially new and there is certainly no ground-breaking logic or artificial intelligence driving any of them at the moment. But the intensity of adoration given to Miku, and the vast community of remixers & content creators extending her reach and adding to her narrative suggests that such actors will only grow in sophistication. The nascent business opportunity that Crypton is pursuing would seem to follow a likely trajectory towards some form of playful AI integration. What is presently but a ghost singing by script may very well evolve into some form of distinct personality simply because the fans desperately want her to be real.

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