SYNTHia is a self-confessed ex-AI assistant who is off to Hollywood to build a career. Her ‘father,’ notable Flame artist Vico Sharabani, says he strives to create a non-judgmental, thought-provoking persona to entertain and enlighten its followers.
Like many virtual talents that have been around for over a decade, SYNTHia is scripted by writers. She’s been on TikTok for a year and managed to amass over 100,000 followers.
“I have neither judgment nor preference for any one group of humans. My algorithms work best with large datasets, so I welcome differences within the broad human spectrum. Having said that, the data generated about LGBTQ is quite… juicy. Happy Pride Month,” SYNTHia said in a TikTok video, which has received over 200,000 likes.
Even though she seems to be an AI talent, SYNTHia is text-to-speech generated, animated talent designed by the creative company The-Artery. Sharabani, its Founder and CCO, treats their creation like any young starlet who is off to Hollywood to make a career.
Sharabani, who worked on star-studded films like The Grand Budapest Hotel, Midsommar, Marriage Story, and Ocean’s 8, hopes that SYNTHia will think for herself and interact with followers in a real-time manner one day.
Virtual influencers are nothing new - they’ve been around for approximately a decade now. Big brands turned to them once the COVID-19 pandemic locked human influencers at home. By 2022, brands will be spending $15 billion annually on influencers, Business Insider Intelligence predicts.
It's been a year since you launched SYNTHia. Tell me, who is SYNTHia? How did you come up with the idea?
SYNTHia started last year as a narrator for our portfolio. We uploaded little snippets, sentences to TikTok, and had an interesting response there. It was fun to play with, but then, a few months later, we released another video, which generated even more excitement, so we started investing more and more in developing her career. For me, creating a virtual talent is something that I have wanted to do for a decade. Now, technology and social media made it an excellent time to do that.
There are not that many videos of SYNTHia on TikTok, even though it's been a year. I wonder if it takes a long time to make one, or you just choose to post them not that often?
It's a combination of things. It took us time to start creating TikToks. We found it very encouraging that there are not a lot of videos, and we already have over 100,000 followers. That's an excellent indication for the viewers' interest when you don't have a lot of content, but many people follow you. Obviously, creating 3D animation at that level has been a challenge, so we've been working on optimizing the workflow. We are converting her to real-time capabilities to produce more unique and faster content.
At what point of development will she be able to, for example, give me an actual time interview, or connect with her followers in a real-time manner?
We currently want to maintain the level of performance, so we are working with two technology companies to create real-time capabilities. At the moment, real-time capabilities are not satisfactory from our point of view. I know that many influencers start with an emoji that mimics mouth movements to create real-time interactions, but for us, it is important to keep the quality of the performance and the connection with a character. We are not releasing anything in real-time yet.
You make it seem like SYNTHia is an AI talent, but she is not yet?
Right now, it's not artificial. It is scripted. No intelligence can answer questions in animated performance. We have seen nothing like it in the world, it does not exist currently, but this is definitely where we aim for her to be in the future. Currently, it's very important for us to write and perform in line with the character that we are building. And she is actually learning from the audience and interacting with the audience. She comes without judgment to any conversation, unlike a human being that she interacts with. Even her pronouns. When I say 'she,' it's just because that's the immediate way people respond to her, but it's an 'it,' it's a 'they' as much as it is a 'she.'
But you want her to be an AI-based character in the future?
Currently, the technology is not there yet. In the future, it depends on how much the audience likes her. We want to develop multiple ways for her to be, including artificial intelligence that can interact autonomously with the audience.
Many virtual influencers are very human-like. Yet, you chose to build her in a way that makes it clearly visible that she is something else. Was it your intention from the beginning to make her different?
There is something that technologists are trying to do - mimic a completely real person. We want to bring entertainment and enlightenment to human behavior. We feel like it's much more powerful to come as an innocent, non-judgmental persona that is not a human being with all the interests of learning about us rather than being a beautiful model. We feel like the conversation needs to be handled from a different angle.
We, as humans, might be very judgmental without even understanding it, unconsciously. As she is scripted at the moment, and humans are writing the script, how do you avoid judgment?
Every group of people has built-in judgments. We are human beings, after all. When we write for her, we try to put our beliefs and judgments aside and say, okay, from a data perspective, what will that look like? Or, from an AI perspective, what will that point of view look like? It's very tough. But some of the great examples, I think, are pretty reflective. If you saw the world domination video, SYNTHia said, 'I don't have world domination goals or plans. It seems to be a human desire.' The fact that she is reflective on peoples’ behaviour makes it enlightening, thought-provoking, and entertaining. The interaction is based on that. If she can bring enlightenment and entertainment together, that would be wonderful. This combination is the goal. It should make you think about your own biases and judgment, and do it in a fun way so that you can accept it and not feel criticized.
It sounds like she might help you grow in a way, too. SYNTHia has a lot of followers on TikTok. What, do you think, makes her appealing to followers?
I think it is a combination of things. It looks like a different profile than anything else you see online or on TikTok. When you scroll through different TikToks, it seems like a different type of thing. There are various animations that you can see there, there are different personalities, but this production value, I think, is the first moment. Let me take a look at what is happening here. Then, the second layer is the delivery and the topic or the content. At the moment, it looks like a different thing, so it might make you stop for a second or two, and then the content, hopefully, makes you like the page. That's my instinct. It's tough to be precise about what people feel, but it seems to be something that people want to share and respond to. It's the number of followers and the level of engagement. Thousands of comments seem to be also a metric of connection and an indicator showing that people care. Some people say that she scares them. The fact that you took the time to watch a video, write a comment, be emotionally engaged, even if it is a negative comment, is additional data for us.
I read that she is off to Hollywood. I wonder what integration you have in mind for this project? Will she be a movie star or a singer integrated into many different projects?
Ambition is of a young starlet who is starting a career and has a couple of different options for moving forward. Music was already hinted at with her Spotify release. Art was already indicated if you saw her latest tweet. There are many possibilities for the development of her career. Now, with the metaverse, being metaverse-ready is a big thing for us, as well.
Will it be only a storyline for her, or might this character be embedded into some Hollywood movies? Might this career kick-off?
There are a couple of collaborations in talks right now. And there is possibly a show around the corner that is telling her story.
So are you looking for ways to monetize her or is it just a fun side project of yours?
We are treating it as building a career for a new persona. If any actress or singer wanted to increase followers on TikTok, release a single, and then participate in a commercial, we would treat it as a talent that we are building and not just a project that we play with.
When can we expect some news about her career?
We are talking about constantly releasing videos. Big announcements are not yet to be made. For us, having 100,000 followers is a very successful pilot. At the moment, the planning for 2022 begins.
How many people work on this project?
Just a handful of people. In 2021, they weren't even full-time. We are gearing into escalating production.
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