Back in September 2023, photographer Shane Balkowitsch wrote an article for PetaPixel entitled “Does The World Need Images of Fake AI People?”. In the article, he called out an AI persona that went by the name of Mia Gezellig on Instagram.
On Mia’s Instagram profile, she states “I am a digital being looking to bring happiness into the digital world.”
A Digital Being Named Mia
At first glance, Mia looks like the classic girl next door. She looks to be between the age of 21-25. She has beautiful blue eyes, porcelain skin dotted with freckles, and a natural beauty with wavy shoulder-length hair. The photos are close-up portraits, taken with the angle of a selfie.
Some photos are a little risqué yet tasteful exposing a little cleavage here, a few lingerie shots there, bikini shots, and photos of her in a sports bra as if she was just preparing for a run or workout session.
Every once and a while a wet t-shirt pops up but her inviting gaze and shy smile reassure you that it’s okay to take a peek… which isn’t uncommon in the realm of social media, in a world of influencers – that’s what’s so captivating. She is as real as the lives they curate except she is virtual in every way. She is offering everyone a sneak peek into her fantasy world through Instagram and Patreon.
She’s fit, not rail thin, she doesn’t have over-exaggerated attributes, and she very well could be the girl next door, her warm realism leads to her appeal.
If you take a closer look. A freckle may move from picture to picture and her cup size may fluctuate, but she is truly a work of art.
Mia, Italian for “mine” and Slavic for “darling,” and Gezellig, which is Dutch and loosely means “pleasant” or “cozy,” has been around for less than a year.
“There is More to the Story”
When Shane wrote that article, Mia had 3000 followers. Mia has over 11,000 followers as of today. She has hundreds of interactions from men and women all over the globe. She also interacts with other AI personas and they support one another.
The following day Shane was surprised to be contacted by someone claiming to be the creator of Mia. They told him, “There is more to the story.”
We had the opportunity to catch up with her creator. We will call her Caroline to preserve her anonymity. Caroline has a tech background and is a boudoir photographer, her photo background led to a deep dive in marketing, and she also does a bit of writing. Clearly, these are all points that led to the creation and success of Mia.
Since Mia’s inception, Caroline knew she wanted to experiment with AI, to use it as a creative outlet.
“I wanted to use AI to try to figure out the crossroads between photography and AI in a way that was understandable for me,” she says. “Trial and error played a big part in it too. So, I just figured out what works best for me. And that was the foundation for a lot of the marketing work that I do.
“And I find that just like we try to tell a story through photography, that is really all you are doing in marketing as well. Like, you are just telling your story or storytelling for someone else. And really trying to push that narrative forward. So, to me they all kind of blend into each other. And I think it is pretty cool.”
When Caroline set out to create Mia, she started with a few sketches but she quickly realized that she needed to experiment with the tools that were available for AI art. Clearly her background as a boudoir photographer informed Mia’s creation, but as far as the tech used, she opted for Stable Diffusion, which she found to be more consistent with her prompts and allowing more flexibility than Midjourney or an inferior phone AI app.
“Very quickly I realized after I started using it, I was really going to have to hone in on my prompts to get her to look the way that I wanted her to look and I spent a lot of time doing it,” Caroline says. “I mean, every iteration of Mia at first was almost like a different person. Then I kind of found the features that I liked the most in you know, hair color, body shape, all of those kinds of things. While they all seem to evolve at the same time. I still needed to figure out how to have this prompt, consistently show me what I was looking for in an AI character.”
A Peek Into How Mia’s ‘Photos’ Are Made
Where does one even start with AI prompts?
“Oh, of course, you know, you go very basic,” Caroline says. “You describe the type of person that you are picturing in your head and with as much detail as you can. But then when the prompt result comes back, and it looks nothing like what you expected it to… That is when I realized the hard part of getting Mia perfect was to tweak those settings eye by eye, arm by arm, leg by leg. Just really giving extraordinarily large amounts of detail to how I wanted her to look.
“But once I got that part down, oh my goodness, the rest of it was easy from that point forward. And being a photographer, it is easy for me to describe lighting or positioning in a particular photo the way that I want.”
One way she does this is avoiding any language that would make Mia appear childlike instead of a young adult woman, she feels this youth fetish is all too common among AI creators.
“How does AI know to create that from your descriptions? Well AI knows how to create that from your descriptions because that is the majority of what it sees,” she says. “That is the majority of what it gets from all of the information it pulls from the internet and from other visual sources. It knows the most popular thing out there right now is overly sexualized childlike females, and I put in prompts before that I thought would just enhance Mia that completely went the other way. And I’d have to back out of it, to make sure that I wasn’t contributing to that because that’s so not where I wanted her to be. If I were to just go in and not give the age descriptor of Mia, it is automatically going to make her look about 10 years younger.”
This is definitely a concern in an online world of overt sexuality and the dawn of “Deepfake” or AI-generated pornography.
Even though Mia is relatively modest by those standards she still gets over-excited followers sliding into her direct messages (DMs) with inappropriate photos and comments. For a simple $5 tip or cup of coffee, Mia will send her Patreon followers more personalized and revealing images daily. These followers understand that this support helps her to continue her journey.
“I make no bones about the fact that Mia is AI and part of the creation of Mia was to also bring forth the things that I might be too shy to do online, and to really kind of meld this persona of Mia, with some real traits of my own and to see if that made her more real,” Caroline says. “Well, I think I probably succeeded, because men just act like she is you know– the average Instagram model and they drop into her DMs and try to flirt”
Then again, fantasizing and pining for models in print or the digital world is nothing new, but there seems to have been a cultural shift that occurred during the 2020 lockdown– we are more connected yet lonelier than ever as the pandemic revealed an epidemic of loneliness.
A Rare Female AI Persona Creator
Caroline is one of the few female creators in the male-dominated realm of AI creators and feels that the generation of these AI personas was a byproduct of quarantine and served as an opportunity to exercise that creative muscle and try something new. Yes, a majority of AI women online are men. That alone can be very disconcerting for anyone interacting and flirting with these AI personas. Or have they not thought about that?
“What we’ve really come across, is a lot of men seem to really want to create women characters,” Caroline says. “I am in a couple of groups, where they don’t necessarily know that I’m a female because they’ve never heard my voice, so the conversations can get kind of, you know… crazy every once in a while, but we’re still sharing technical knowledge and experience about how we’re building our characters and what’s the easiest prompt to get to certain types of situations. So, I still find them useful enough to be involved in.”
In the future, Caroline plans on tweaking Mia to help her age. While creating the various environments Mia finds herself in, Caroline does her research and checks out the profiles of popular influencers to see what they’re doing and what leads to their success. The most popular posts that she’s found include travel, fitness, being with friends, food, and fashion. The latter being the trickiest. If anyone has seen the new Indiana Jones movie, it is not out of the possibility that a persona such as Mia could easily be introduced into advertisements and movies.
On a philosophical level, we have blamed fashion mags for our body dysmorphia, and blamed social media for our anti-social tendencies and overconsumption in the age of Amazon… but in a world of Snapchat dysmorphia-induced lip fillers, freckle tattoos, and fox eyes. What effect will AI influencers have on society?
After all, an AI persona would have a much easier time getting rid of those confetti freckle facial tats that seemed like such a good idea at the time. The fact is, Mia can get married, have children, and be a swimsuit model 100 years from now with little or no effort. She will never feel any pain, she will never age and she will never die like the rest of us, but we digress.
Copyright and intellectual property rights are tricky areas for AI creators. According to Caroline, it’s really tough to get any kind of copyright or trademark on AI art, because technically, what you’re creating is a combination of all this imagery from the internet. The United States court system has been pretty clear on this topic.
“My concern is not as much about copyright issues but to make Mia unique, consistent, and as unique as possible,” Caroline says. “I still put a watermark on Mia’s account. I’m sure at some point. There will be, stricter rules and regulations around AI But it’s kind of a wild wild west right now. And at least the community of AI creators that I stick with, we have a certain level of mutual respect, where we just don’t do anything inappropriate with our characters.”
As an AI artist, what does Caroline think the future holds for AI?
“There’s always going to be this unknown… questionable future for artificial intelligence,” she says. “We’re just never going to know where it’s going until it’s there, and that can be good or bad. I also feel like we can look forward to some level of legislation in the future. Which again, could be good or bad, because of its realism, and the fact that so many things can be done with AI I definitely see legislation in the future.
“But then I also see this really beautiful, helpful discovery of all these new different ways that people are going to use AI to bring about, you know, health improvements and cures for different diseases and different ways for us to learn in different environments. And that’s the stuff that I’m the most excited about. The things that we are going to be able to do with AI over the next five to 10 years. That is really going to just blow research in medicine out of the water in a lot of ways. That stuff really inspires me and excites me.”
“I’m also in the process of creating other experimental characters. And one of those characters is going to be a person of color and I just really think that in that particular area of AI, there could definitely be some improvements. And I also feel like our platforms, our social media platforms are probably at some point going to make us differentiate between being a real person and being an AI character or AI enhanced character.”
Real People Behind AI Personas
So, as we can see, there was more to this story. There is a real person behind Mia and now we are aware of her thoughts and intentions. Our viewpoint about Mia significantly changed once we started interacting with the real person who created her. We are grateful for Caroline’s trust and honesty and her willingness to share the truth from her point of view.
Where this all leads is anyone’s guess. Will AI change the way that we perceive and interact with the world? It sure seems like that in 2023. Is the world a better place because there are AI personalities interacting online with real humans? What happens when AI can interact independently with humans? Will the lines of reality and fantasy become so blurred we will have nothing concrete to stand on? What does the world look like when eventually there will be more “fake” AI people online than real people? It seems that we are ending this article with more questions than we started with, but that is the reality of the matter. We can all understand that the genie is now out of the bottle and there seems no way to put her back in. In the end, humanity will have to determine what is most important in life. We can only hope that the word for that is “humanity”, not “dystopian”.
We live in a fantasy world, a world of illusion. The great task in life is to find reality. –Iris Murdoch
All the images of Mia included in this article were personally selected by Caroline her creator.
This is Shane’s 5th article of his series on AI The other four articles are below:
- AI Imagery Is Not Photography, It Never Will Be
- AI Imagery May Destroy History As We Know It
- Art and AI: Debating the Definition of Creativity
- Does The World Need Images of Fake AI People?
About the authors: Sabrina Hornung is a journalist, photographer, and mixed media artist. Sabrina and her cat Hadji live in the wilds of central North Dakota, where they spend their free time exploring the roads less traveled. She is the editor-in-chief for High Plains Reader, a monthly publication based out of Fargo ND, has contributed to the international folk art publication Raw Vision Magazine, and has shown her art throughout the upper Midwest. You can find her work on Instagram at @sabrina_hornung.
Shane Balkowitsch is a wet plate collodion photographer. He has been practicing for over a decade the historic process given to the world by Frederick Scott Archer in 1851. He does not own a digital camera and analog is all that he knows. He has original plates at 71 museums around the globe including the Smithsonian, Library of Congress, The Pitt Rivers Museum at the University of Oxford, and the Royal Photographic Society in the United Kingdom. He is constantly promoting the merits of analog photography to anyone who will listen. His life’s work is “Northern Plains Native Americans: A Modern Wet Plate Perspective” a journey to capture 1,000 Native Americans in the present day in the historic process. You can find his work on Instagram at @balkowitsch