Rei Toei is the title character of William Gibson’s Idoru. “She”* is an artificial intelligence-based hologram, a pop performer. When looked at by an individual, she adapts to that person’s taste in J-pop. When she performs in concert, the performance is predicated on the group’s consensus of what they think she should be.
While Rei is a synthetic performer, there have been, during the past few years, a number of biologically dead performers—Tupac, Roy Orbison, Ronnie James Dio, Frank Zappa, Whitney Houston, etc.—who have “performed” in digital renditions. And reading the reviews of these shows leads me to believe that this is something that is well accepted among the fans of the deceased.
Why is it that people find it fascinating to see a “performance” by someone who is in absolutely no condition to perform? Would it be just as engaging for them to watch, say, a movie of said performer rather than a hologram? Back in the early days of movies there were often orchestras who played the soundtrack live. (In 1981 I had the opportunity to watch Abel Gance’s reconstructed Napoleon (filmed in 1927) at the Fox Theater in Detroit with a score written by Carmine Coppola; Francis Ford’s American Zoetrope was behind the showing of the 3.5-hour film in venues across the country, which probably had a little something to do with why dad wrote the music; and it may be interesting to know that Francis was born in Detroit when dad was a musician with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra: the middle name comes from Henry Ford, for whom the hospital Francis was born in is named.) Now there need be nothing but speakers, projectors and a sufficiently robust GPU-based processor.
Is the digital performance better, say, than a cover band version of the performer(s)? Wikipedia has 24 pages of Beatles tribute bands and there is a disclaimer on the entry: “This list may not reflect recent changes.” Odds are there aren’t fewer people who are pretending but more. Could many of them, however, go away, were there to be some sort of licensing deal with the estates of John and George and the existing Ringo and Paul by companies like Base Hologram or Eyellusion?
As we are all under various stages of lockdowns, as concert venues are closed and not likely to be reopening anytime soon, might people start strapping on the HoloLens2 headset and watch their favorite performers?
Just think how the overheads for concerts can be completely eliminated. That will certainly make some promoters happy as they’re primarily going to have to pay the estates and a bunch of low-wage programmers and not have to worry about riders with green M&Ms.
But it doesn’t stop with concerts and these companies. According to Pulse Evolution Corporation, “The Company sees digital humans emerging as ubiquitous in society, culture and industry. They will not only perform for audiences on stage or in film, but they will also represent individual consumers as digital likeness avatars, in realistic and fantasy form, appearing and interacting on the consumer’s behalf in electronic and mobile communication, social media, video games and virtual reality.”
That’s right: You can become a virtual shopper of virtual things in virtual space. Of course, at the end it will be with real money.
In Idoru, one of the plot threads has a rockstar (non-virtual) named Rez making arrangements to marry Rei. While this may seem bizarrely inexplicable, will the existence of COVID-19 lead us to a place where more of our physical interactions give way to something less. . .tangible?
*To say that a fictional character in a novel is not as “real” as other characters is in itself something of an unusual proposition.