Photo: Getty
  /  08.19.2022

Have you ever watched “Black Mirror” episodes that displayed virtual reality and thought to yourself, “No way this could ever be real”? Well, secure your edges because that is far from the truth. While “Black Mirror” was created as a fictional thriller show, the chilling episodes may mirror reality more closely than we think. Thanks to the latest emerging technology, developments in artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual reality (VR) have been changing the way we live our lives. But before we dive into those changes, let’s discuss what these terms really mean.

Webster’s Dictionary defines artificial intelligence as  “1: a branch of computer science dealing with the simulation of intelligent behavior in computers; 2: the capability of a machine to imitate intelligent human behavior.” In layman’s terms, it’s technology used to mimic human behavior. Virtual reality is defined as “an artificial environment which is experienced through sensory stimuli (such as sights and sounds) provided by a computer and in which one’s actions partially determine what happens in the environment” and “the technology used to create or access a virtual reality.” AI focuses on fake humans while VR focuses on fake environments. Both are combined to provide experiences for consumers, but there is a distinct difference between the two.

Now that we have that understanding, let’s dive into AI. Recently, the music industry has been utilizing this technology to provide consumers with a new way to enjoy their favorite entertainers. A company called Proto Inc. curated a life-sized hologram of the late icon Biggie Smalls. The hologram provided a lifelike experience through not just the appearance of the rapper but also mannerisms that almost seemed real. This isn’t the first time holograms have been used to imitate artists. Dr. Dre curated a hologram of Tupac for a Coachella performance back in 2012. Even artists who are still living like Chief Keef and Quavo have utilized hologram technology. While the technology provides a space to enjoy entertainment from artists who have passed away or new experiences with artists who are still here, some fans have reservations due to how lifelike the holograms are — but isn’t that the point of the technology? To provide the experience as if the artist is still alive? While that may be the case, the new tech might be too much for some fans to handle.

The use of AI in music doesn’t stop there. Capitol Records recently signed a virtual artist named FN Meka to their label. The “robot rapper” was created using AI technology. The company behind it all is Factory New, a virtual record label that was the first to sign FN Meka. The artist doesn’t exist in real life but has over 10 million fans on TikTok. The robot rapper also released a new single titled “Florida Water” in collaboration with real-life rapper Gunna. Who would have thought we would ever have to distinguish between virtual and human rappers? Now, there is a real person behind the voice of FN Meka, but the lyrics are generated by AI technology. Factory New says that the company is working to computerize the vocals behind the robot rapper as well, however. Capitol Records isn’t the only company taking this route, a record label in China called Whet Records recently signed a virtual female artist. That artist is Lil Miquela; she has over 10 million TikTok followers and over 100,000 listeners on Spotify. To some, this could be seen as innovative technology, while others view it as just plain creepy. But I wonder how this will affect real-life artists who make music. Will these AI rappers take their spot? Or, will entertainment continue to be a collaboration between the two?

AI isn’t the only tech making waves in the music industry, as VR has been pushing its way into the space as well. Companies like Oculus are allowing fans to enjoy virtual reality concerts from their favorite artists. They recently partnered with Billie Eilish so fans with VR headsets could experience music from her performance at Governors Ball. The set saw fans jumping into a 180-degree experience within a crowd of thousands of people — all while sitting at home. The performance originally aired on a platform called Venues, where other artists such as Chlöe Bailey, Saweetie, and Lady Gaga have appeared.

There are a lot of perks to utilizing this technology for artists, one of them being cheaper overhead costs for concerts. There is a lot of manpower, equipment, and time that go into prepping shows, but with VR, you can cut that in half by having a developer create the space virtually. Another perk is that it provides safety for the artists. With COVID-19 and monkeypox spreading, this can allow artists to perform and meet fans without the physical dangers of an in-person show. But it doesn’t stop there, VR technology allows for artists to reach more people. You are no longer limited to reaching fans in the areas you can physically perform — now you can perform for fans all over the world without having to leave your hometown. The technology doesn’t just benefit artists, it also benefits consumers by allowing them to enjoy entertainment without having to leave their house. This is especially important for those who are disabled or not able to physically travel to see their favorite artists. Yet another perk is lower ticket cost. Because the overhead for the concert will significantly decrease, artists are able to offer their fans a more affordable experience. That fact funnels into my next point regarding experience — since the concert is virtual, you don’t have the same limitations that you do in the real world. Spitting fire, floating objects, and anything else you can imagine can be programmed into the VR world.

Both AI and VR are innovative technologies that can provide greater access to experiences for people across the globe. But the question still remains: Who draws the line between the virtual world and reality? And who decides when technology is taking it too far?

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