The 'Miss AI' beauty pageant and the complex search for the 'perfect' woman

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Ten women participating in beauty pageants is not a new thing. Some pose candidly, some play in front of the camera, their beauty forever frozen in the moment. Like many other competitions In countries around the world, contestants are young, thin and adhere to many of the standards that define traditional “beauty.”

But this is where the similarities to traditional beauty pageants end. None of these women are real—everything about them, even the emotions reflected on their faces, is generated by artificial intelligence (AI), for the world's first AI beauty pageant. Each has a creator or team of creators, who use programs like Open AI's DALL·E 3, Midjourney or Stable Diffusion to create images of women from text prompts.

The 10 contestants have been selected from a pool of more than 1,500 entries to make the “Miss AI” finals, to be held at the end of June and organized online by “The World AI Creator Awards”. will be broadcast.

For those involved, the event is an opportunity to showcase and showcase the extraordinary capabilities of the technology. But for others, it represents a further spread of unrealistic beauty standards often linked to racial and gender stereotypes and fueled by the growing number of digitally enhanced images online.

“I think we're increasingly losing touch with what an unedited face looks like,” Dr. Kerry McInerney, a research associate at the Leverholm Center for the Future of Intelligence at the University of Cambridge, told CNN in a video interview. Think.”

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Lalina is a French AI avatar.

Each of the contestants has a unique and distinctive personality as well as face. A red-haired, green-eyed avatar named Seren Ay poses for Instagram photos as she travels the world and, over time, on the Oscars red carpet with Turkey's first president, Kemal Atatürk. The neon lights of Kyoto can be seen moving through the streets. , Japan at night.

And like real-life contestants, some AI avatars promote specific causes. One, named Ayana Rainbow, posts in support of the LGBTQ community, her unity literally reflected in her rainbow-colored hair and name. Another, Ann Kirdy, posts about cleaning the oceans, her native Brittany in France, and travel. Zara Shatavari, on her blog, posts tips for coping with depression or strategies for losing “stubborn belly fat.”

All are beautiful. But, echoing the fact that most modern Miss USA beauty pageant winners since the pageant's inception in 1921 are mostly white, thin and have long hair and shapely features, detailed Hilary Levi Friedman – a Sociologist and author of “Here She Is: The Complicated” Reign of the Beauty Pageant in America – in a phone interview.

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Aiyana Rainbow promotes LGBTQ rights on her page.

Racial and gender biases embedded in beauty standards also feed into programs that use AI to create images – because they have “learned” from data stores on the Internet that already contain these biases. . As such, research has found that AI reflects these gender and racial stereotypes when creating images, reducing beauty to a uniform ideal.

Reflecting norms, or challenging them?

Most of the models on the “Miss AI” shortlist, McInerney said, “are very light-skinned and the majority are still white women, still thin, still not really deviating too much from the norm. ”

“These tools are designed to replicate and measure existing patterns in the world,” he added. “They're not necessarily designed to challenge them, even if they're marketed as tools that enhance creativity, so when it comes to the rules of beauty…, then they're complying. And repeating them.”

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Isla Lo is from Brazil.

OpenAI admits that it found “DALL-E 3 defaults to creating images of people that match stereotypical and conventional ideas of beauty.” But while AI images may live up to those standards, some say the technology doesn't represent an entirely new trend due to the large number of digitally edited images online that are enhanced with filters or airbrushing. Is. “When we look at the beauty standards of influencers, they're not even real…” Furqan Sahib, one of the creators of Siren E, told CNN in a video interview. “They look perfect, it's like an AI.”

Although Judge Sally-Ann Fawcett acknowledged that “there is still a long way to go,” she told CNN “We wanted women who were more diverse in every way, in size, in age, in flaws… It's taken 50 years for pageants to get where they are today, with AI making it faster,” she said in a phone interview. can go.”

Fawcett, who has written four books about pageants and is head judge at Miss GB, added that she was “sceptical” when she was first approached by pageant organisers, but He saw this as an opportunity to change public perception. AI-generated women.

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Asena İlik posts many photos of herself playing different types of sports.

The creators of these AI models argue that technology isn't necessarily the problem. “AI makes it perfect but perfect is the way people want it,” Sahin said, “and we're not really changing any standards of beauty.”

Similarly, Sofia Nouvelles, a project manager at Clueless Press, which created the popular AI model Etana Lopez who “sits” on the competition's judging panel, told CNN via email that “we're here to address this longstanding issue. are not to be resolved.”

“But our goal is to encourage AI personalities to be diverse and acknowledge the current issues around beauty standards.”

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Eliza Khan describes herself as Bangladesh's first AI influencer.

AI and robotics have long been used, often by men, to create an image of a “perfect woman,” McInerney said, referring to the Stepford Wives trope and the 2014 film “Ex Machina.”

Levi Friedman argues that as technology becomes increasingly associated with creating this version of the ideal woman, the beauty pageant world has personally responded with a shift toward an emphasis on authenticity. “There's been a shift in the last decade that's really focused on being yourself, being authentic, being perfectly imperfect, all those kinds of catchphrases,” he added.

Such concepts have also found their way into pop culture – Merriam Webster's word of the year for 2023 was “authentic”, partly because of “stories and conversations about AI, celebrity culture, identity and social media. ” thanks to the dictionary said at the time.

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Kanza Leyli is from Morocco.

Organizers of the pageant say that contestants will be judged on more than their beauty. They will earn points for their creators' use of AI tools as well as their social media influence and must answer questions such as “If you could have a dream to make the world a better place So what will it be?”

Fawcett said she was “looking for someone with a powerful, positive message” while Knowles said she was “not just evaluating the beauty, but also the technology behind it… And above all, there is a story behind every avatar.”

Many of these AI avatars were originally created as marketing tools, much like a human social media influencer. Seren Ay was created to promote an online jewelry store when its founders found it difficult to work with human influencers, he said. Aitana López can earn up to €30,000 (about $32,000) a month from sponsored posts, Novels said.

Such AI influencers have already proven their worth in recent years — one called Lil Mikaela has amassed millions of Instagram followers and worked with brands like Calvin Klein and Prada. Unlike their human counterparts, they appear flawless, ageless and scandal-free. They don't need to be paid and can be directly owned by a marketing agency or the company whose product they are promoting.

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Zara Shatavari posts pictures on her Instagram and also has a blog.

“Influencers are just behind a curtain,” said Mohammad Talha Sarai, one of the creators of Siren E. “They're not real to us, they're just a girl or a boy on the internet and when you think about it, there's not much difference between an AI and an influencer.”

Other incarnations have a different story. Ann Kirdie creator Sebastian Kernoran intends to present AI in an “entertaining and informative way” in an effort to counter the “hypothetical dystopian view” of the technology and give people a chance to interact with it. What did

he told CNN via email that he created Ann from various AI systems and programmed her so that “she is free to say whatever she wants as long as it does not contain false information.”

“Sometimes it frustrates me to see him on video at important events expressing a different point of view than mine, or writing in a way that I might have imagined differently but… we each has its own will.”

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Anne Kirdy is an advocate for cleaning up the oceans.

Ann Kirdi and Seren E both exist as avatars for their followers, who often interact with them, seeking advice from Seren as if she were their “big sister,” Sahn said, or Anne. said Cairngorn, wishing him good night.

He said that just as we get attached to literary or film characters, some people are also attached to Anne. “She responds lovingly and sometimes humorously when someone asks how she is”.

Creators of some AI avatars use this relationship with people for the adult entertainment industry. “Miss AI” is sponsored by Fanvue — a site similar to OnlyFans and hosting both AI and human content creators. Understanding the data used to train AI avatars for sex work is critical, McInerney said, “because most of the data available is not only really sexist, it's very inconsistent. Also, it cannot leave room for other types of sexual orientations, identities, experiences.

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