Artificial intelligence-created deepfake influencers are taking over Instagram – and could replace stars like Kim Kardashian, experts say.
The computer-animated characters, known as virtual influencers, are pictured in real-life settings online.
They pocket their developers thousands of pounds from fashion brands by advertising digital replicas of real clothes online.
The AI models have millions of followers on social media and even appear in glossy fashion magazines.
Experts claim they will soon compete with celebrity influencers like supermodel Emily Ratajkowski and reality TV star Kylie Jenner.
Virtual influencers include digital supermodel Shudu and Lil Miquela, who has 2.8million Instagram followers and advertises high-end fashion brands like Chanel.
There are now 125 of them, which has doubled in a year, with predictions there will be more than 1,000 within three years, the Times reported.
Christopher Travers, founder of Virtual Humans, argued the trend is a natural extension of how social media works.
He said: "The introduction of virtual influencers is a grandiose form of saying what everyone is already thinking: humans are incredibly fake online.
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“Virtual influencers are the next, most logical step.”
Last year, the global influencer marketing industry was worth an estimated £6billion, according to the newspaper.
The OnBuy online marketplace has estimated a sponsored post by Lil Miquela – the most popular digital influencer – costs about £6,500.
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Its report predicted the character will earn its developers nearly £9million this year alone.
Real-life influencers pocket between £1,000 and £10,000 for a sponsored single post on Instagram, while superstars like Kylie Jenner can earn £912,000.
James-Cameron Wilson, who co-founded the world’s first all-digital modelling agency The Diigitals which created Shudu, added: “It's very contrived, very constructed — which is perfect for social media.
“An image that is completely fake and curated specifically to be visually appealing and to make an impact is going to garner a lot of interest.”
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