“Ick” Or Ethics? Michael Crichton’s 1981 Film “Looker” Is Coming True…

In “Looker,” a 1981 science fiction thriller starring Albert Finney, James Coburn and Susan Dey, involves a high tech research firm that concludes that real, live models, even after cosmetic surgery, can’t approach the physical perfection that will optimally influence consumers. Models are offered a contracts to have their faces and figures scanned to create 3D computer-generated avatars, indistinguishable from them, which are animated for use in commercials. Once their bodies duplicated digitally, they get lifetime paychecks (though not for as much as Miguel Cabrera, currently at $400,410,623 and counting, gets) and can retire, since their computer-generated, more perfect dopplegangers will be doing their work for them. For some reason, the evil tech firms has all of the models murdered, but that part of the plot is irrelevant here.

42 years later, Levi Strauss & Co. announced in a press release yesterday that it is partnering with an AI company to “increase the number and diversity of our models for our products in a sustainable way.” Yeah, those digital models in “Looker” were also “sustainable,” even though the models’ flesh and blood models were disposable. Levi’s will test the use of AI models to “supplement” real-life models later in 2023.

“While AI will likely never fully replace human models for us”, “—-yeah, tell it to Susan Dey—-we are excited for the potential capabilities this may afford us for the consumer experience,” said Dr. Amy Gershkoff Bolles, global head of digital and emerging technology strategy at Levi Strauss & Co, sounding a lot like James Coburn, the evil advertising genius in “Looker.”

Meanwhile, in arguably related news, Levi Strauss & Co. will be laying off 800 employees — almost 20% of its corporate jobs.

Is the company’s murder-less version of the “Looker” scheme unethical? Many social media critics apparently think so, but what do they know? Here’s one:

Those arguments are easily rebutted. Ever since I saw a funny photo of golfer Jack Nicklaus and his sons from behind as they poses for a sports shirt ad (Their backs were covered with clothespins to make the shirts look like they fit like gloves) I realized there was little accurate about how models look in the apparel they are modeling. Nor are the typical female models used in womens’ fashion remotely like “real human bodies”—they are impossibly thin, impossibly beautiful freaks of nature. Will Levi Strauss tell its market that the models they see are computer generated? They just did, didn’t they?

Using computers to simulate diversity, with real models, seems arguably fairer than using skin shade or eye shape as criteria for discrimination. Hire the most skilled model, and make him or her look like whatever race of ethnicity is desired. You know, like “The Little Mermaid”

Why shouldn’t skin color be as fungible as clothes? Surely we saw this development coming. Once CGI gets to the point—and you know it will—that digital images look completely human, why wouldn’t movie-makers and TV producers use the computer-generated performers instead of the real thing? No unions, no divas, no forgotten lines. No child actors growing six inches during a long film shoot.

As for complaints about how the digital performers are taking the jobs of live ones, well, that’s the story of technological and industrial progress, isn’t it? Why should models and actors be exempt?

No, as long as Levi Strauss & Co. can resist the urge to start killing people, its plan must be ruled icky, but not quite unethical.

At least, not yet.


Pointer: Curmie

11 thoughts on ““Ick” Or Ethics? Michael Crichton’s 1981 Film “Looker” Is Coming True…

  1. Given the absurd level of support executive compensation replacing these exec’s and directors with AI would make more sense. No expensive searches or golden parachutes and perks.
    Just thinking out loud.

  2. For quite a while, I’ve assumed the people of color in all TV commercials are computer generated. Haven’t you noticed all the women have the identical hairdo? It’s an overgrown-out afro that naturally parts down the center and falls to each side of the head like saddle bags. It’s absolutely ubiquitous and preposterous. Are all black women required by law to wear their hair that way?

  3. Does one really think that what they purchase will resemble what was photoshopped.? I’m still expecting the perfect cheeseburger.

    AI like photoshopping engenders unrealizable expectation that lead to undeniable bouts of depression.

  4. The only thing that moves me more toward “unethical” rather than “ick” is the business about increasing diversity. How? By not employing BIPOC models?

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