Is SM Entertainment founder Lee Soo-man a misunderstood visionary or the epitome of the 'dark side of K-pop'?

Concern has been raised in the aftermath of the announcement by Lee Soo-man that their new group Aespa will have AI avatars


                            Is SM Entertainment founder Lee Soo-man a misunderstood visionary or the epitome of the 'dark side of K-pop'?
Lee Soo-man (SM Entertainment)
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Would you like to live in a world where, one day, there's a possibility of AI K-pop stars turning sentient in some 'Ex Machina'-type scenario? Or have a K-pop avatar that is subservient to all your needs and demands? Well, that could soon be a possibility, according to K-pop "stan" netizens. This concern has been raised in the aftermath of the announcement by SM Entertainment's founder Lee Soo-man that their new group Aespa will have real-world members as well as AI avatars.

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The announcement was made by Soo-man during the 2020 World Cultural Industry Forum. Aespa's official Twitter handle even shared a YouTube video where member Karina introduces her avatar version æ-Karina. You can watch the interaction below.


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Reactions

Twitter didn't take kindly to the announcement by Soo-man. Many pointed out the numerous problems with the concept, like this one user who tweeted, "Lee Soo-man why the f**k do you like to feed psychopaths?" before going on to say, "like, is this a way to give sasaengs a new toy so they leave the artistes alone? It’s feeding crazy-a** people to feel connected to the idol and things might get out of hand, like, there should be a boundary between idols and their fans. What the f**k is this gonna do? What’s the point of it?"

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The user then said, "the whole idea of it is weird. I don't care how much technology has improved. Why the f**k would you need to feel like you own a person and have a 'my' idol character thing? Treating them like 'The Sims', but the difference is they're surrounded by sasaengs who already feel like they own them."


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Another user, criticising the idea and equating it to the encouragement of pedophilia, wrote, "Lee Soo-man is debuting a group with minors. He is also creating an AI system in which any person in the world, regardless of age, can interact with a virtual version of the members. I dare you to present a positive outcome to this."

The user then shared a video of Soo-man making the announcement saying, "this is so very unsettling. I pray for the members." The user then said, "this man is quite literally marketing the reputation and lives of four girls to all of us, including sasaengs pedophiles, and every other disgusting psychopath on this planet." Another user wrote, "Lee Soo-man watching a 'Dark Side of K-Pop' video on YouTube once and deciding to prove them right."

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In Asian and, specifically South Korean culture, a sasaeng or sasaeng fan, is an obsessive fan who stalks or engages in other behaviour constituting an invasion of the privacy of a Korean idol or other public figure.


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How AI works

Not many people, it's safe to say, understand the way AI works. A self-correcting system, an AI's goal is to replicate the human brain as closely as possible. Also, and this shouldn't be hard to believe, an AI's memory is impeccably strong. So, in the long-run, having AI avatars that you can interact and potentially misbehave with is not good.

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Keeping these sci-fi concerns aside, the K-pop fan culture is extremely toxic. This has been showcased numerous times through the tragic suicides of idols in the past. Encouraging obsessive behavior, even by a profit-driven entertainment company, is not the best route to take. The music industry is, at the end of the day, an industry where artistes are exploited and the primary goal is the maximization of profit but, despite all this, we shouldn't lose sight of what's important: Art.

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There are plenty of practical uses of AI and bringing fans and idols closer is not its priority. This is like Miley Cyrus' 'Black Mirror' episode 'Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too' come to life and, if we didn't already know this, Charlie Brooker, the creator of 'Black Mirror', was trying to warn us, not encourage us.

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