August 26, 2019

On the Fringe – Beauty

Amy Webb // WTF BEAUTY

Beauty, science and technology have always been intertwined. Hundreds of years ago in Japan, geisha formulated a makeup base using wax from local trees. Chalk-white faces, necks and forearms were in vogue. In the 1920s, makeup artist Helena Rubinstein experimented with kohl to invent mascara for the silver screen, which set off a new trend in long, jet-black eyelashes.

Artificial intelligence, augmented reality and smart cameras are evolving at an interesting moment in time: We are under continuous surveillance, our gender identification has become more fluidly expressed, and all of us want to look our best. Quantitative futurist Amy Webb gives us some ideas of the trends to watch as tech and beauty move into the next chapter of their convergence.

  1. AI influencers and synthetic content — Miquela Sousa is a 19-year-old singer-songwriter, a model for Prada and Calvin Klein, and a social media influencer with 1.6 million Instagram followers. And she—like many of her “friends”—isn’t a real human. While Miquela herself isn’t AI, you can think of her as Version One of a new era of beauty, built by algorithms and generative adversarial networks that can stitch together photos, videos, objects, motions and other types of content to create realistic-looking people. She’s not fake, but rather synthetic. The company behind Miquela, L.A.-based Brud, is one of several venture-backed companies like Superplastic and Shadow that act as agent creators. As synthetic content evolves, so will younger consumers’ attitudes on beauty and style.
  2. Beauty demands in China — Many people in China now use facial recognition to pay for everything from groceries to taxicabs. It isn’t privacy that has many Chinese people concerned, but rather how they look in all of the next-gen, pay-by-face apps. A poll by Chinese news organization Sina Technology revealed that 60% of those who use facial recognition for payments feel self-conscious about how they look and would prefer a system of payment that isn’t as unflattering. In response, payment giants like Alipay—Alibaba’s e-wallet subsidiary, which counts more than a billion monthly active users—are building in beauty filters to their systems. This could have a reverberating effect as more digital payment companies enter the marketplace, and as competition for market share heats up. Consumers might be willing to pay higher transaction fees in exchange for looking great—or at least avoiding looking bad—while they make purchases.
  3. Interactive mirrors — New mirrors capable of recognizing you and suggesting helpful information will start to change how you exercise and apply makeup. While connected mirrors have been available for the past few years, the latest mirrors are aided by machine learning and are designed to interact with consumers seamlessly, like a visual conversation. The Artemis smart mirror from CareOS is intended to help users try out new hairstyles and colors; however, it will also collect and analyze data to determine whether that mole on your neck is something a doctor should check out. Capstone’s Connected Home and Kohler’s Verdera Voice smart mirrors are powered by either or both Google Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa. Mirrors aren’t just about reflecting aspirations, they’re also helping consumers achieve them.

Amy Webb is the founder of the Future Today Institute, a professor at New York University Stern School of Business, and author of “The Big Nine,” about the future of artificial intelligence.


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, Founder, Future Today Institute |

Amy Webb is the founder of the Future Today Institute, a professor at New York University Stern School of Business, and author of “The Signals Are Talking.”

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