Kylie Jenner via Instagram
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The ongoing identity theft of Kylie Jenner’s week-old baby

Who is @stormijenner? And what do they want? 

It wouldn’t be surprising if seven-day old Stormi had an Instagram account. As the newest member of reality TV’s most famous family, the fact she’s a baby should be no barrier to Stormi’s social media success. When her mother Kylie Jenner posted a picture of the new-born to the site yesterday, it took just a few hours before it became Instagram’s most-liked post ever.

But Stormi doesn’t have an Instagram account – she has at least twenty.

@stormijenner is just one of many seemingly-fake Stormis that have popped up on Instagram since Kylie Jenner announced the birth of her daughter earlier this week. With over 75,000 followers, @stormijenner follows Jenner and Stormi’s father, Travis Scott, and has reposted the picture of Stormi from Jenner’s account. Yet Scott and Jenner don’t follow this page, and haven’t promoted it on their own profiles. There is no evidence it belongs to Kylie Jenner, and the profile picture is a picture of a baby that first appeared on a website called babies.blogcrib.com on 23 December 2017.  

So how did this account get 75,000 followers in just a few days? Other fake Stormi Jenners – from @stormijenner01 to @stormijenner.now – have managed anything from between 700 and 14,000 followers. Of course @stormijenner benefits from the handle directly being the baby’s first name and her mother's last name (although celebrity sites suggest Stormi's surname will be Webster, after Scott's real surname) but just where did all its followers come from?

Last summer, the New Statesman spoke with people who’d had their pictures stolen by an Instagram account known as @transformationfeed. These photos were stolen and doctored to appear as inspirational “before and after” pictures on this account, as well as accounts titled @course and @relationships.usa. These accounts gained a large number of followers from the pictures, meaning they could then earn money by advertising products, such as jewellery, on the pages.

@course is the source of @stormijenner’s fans. The account posted two pictures of Stormi this week, and in each included the handle @stormijenner in the caption. The account was therefore actively and purposefully directing its four million followers to the page. Similarly, earlier this month @course claimed to have found the Instagram page of the “Selfie Kid”, a boy who became a meme after posing with Justin Timberlake at the Super Bowl. This account now has 117,000 followers, but there is no evidence it is run by the real Selfie Kid, 13-year-old Ryan McKenna.  

Last year, Buzzfeed News found that an 18-year-old boy called Hasan ran the @course account. Hasan did not respond to my request for comment from his @course or @hasan accounts, and it is unclear whether he created @stormijenner, was paid to promote the account by someone else, or believes it to be real.

Yet other Instagram users have their theories.

@stormijnnr is an Instagram user claiming that they originally owned the @stormijenner account and gave the password to @course. They say @course claimed they would help them build up the number of posts on the profile, but then changed the password and “stole” the account.

@relationshipsfeed.usa – one of the accounts Hasan told Buzzfeed worked in allegiance with his account @course – is commenting on these posts, calling @course’s actions “a whole scam”.

On another Instagram profile, @exposingdiary, someone has dedicated the last day to proving @stormijenner is fake.

“Course denies that he owns that account and kylie does but kylie jenner doesn’t even follow the page, so basically he cares about followers and money, as you can see the proof,” they captioned screenshots of conversations between @course and the alleged original owner of @stormijenner. In some screenshots, an account named @journal claims to have paid $40 for the @stormijenner account. (@journal’s contact email is the same as @course’s, and @exposingdiary speculates that Hasan runs the account).

No one behind any of these accounts responded to request for comment, but the drama continues online. Who stole @stormijenner? Who is @stormijenner? Regardless, it seems unlikely that the page belongs to any real member of the Kardashian Klan.

It is an unusual state of affairs that when a baby is born, people will try and steal its identity for social media fame. This fame often directly translates into money, as a large number of followers means accounts can be paid to promote products. Whoever does own @stormijenner will be able to profit from its 75,000 followers greatly, which explains why so many online are arguing about the profile's ownership, and why people would be willing to steal (or pay $40 to get) the account. 

Another fake Stormi, with over 100,000 followers, is using the same stolen image of the baby from the blog. @istormiwebjenner has a bio full of emojis, but “No Posts Yet”. Their bio reads, in the voice of the new-born: “Daughter of Kylie Jenner. Going live in 10 minutes with my mommy follow to join”. This tantalising offer of proof is yet to materialise into concrete evidence. 

At least it won’t be surprising if eight-day old Stormi gets a verified Instagram account very soon, exposing the fakes for that they are. 

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.

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Welcome to the Uncanny Valley: how creepy robot dogs are on the rise

It’s hard not to feel a little destabilised after watching a robot’s freakishly long limbs open a door. 

If you’re among those devouring the latest season of Charlie Brooker’s dystopian hellscape Black Mirror, you may still be having metallic nightmares of being chased by the freaky robo-dogs of  “Metalhead”. In which case, you maybe unsettled to know that these nightmares could in theory become a reality (in the distant future), as a viral video from the robotics firm Boston Dynamics (of backflipping robot fame) revealed earlier this week.


Charmingly titled, “Hey Buddy, can you give me a hand?” a SpotMini, Boston Dynamics’ smallest robot, approaches a door and appears to turn sideways before scampering away. Another SpotMini, fitted with an extending claw-arm, opens the door and lets the first robot scamper through, propping it open to follow. 

 

The director of “Metalhead”, David Slade, was inspired by these very demonstrations. As he stated in an interview in January, the inspiration for those robotic villains stemmed from none other than Boston Dynamics itself. “Those fucking Boston Dynamics robots are terrifying, so that in itself was enough that we didn’t have to worry about it,” he told IndieWire. 


Beyond its viral value, the SpotMini marks an interesting stage in the development of artificial intelligence and robotics. Being able to open a door has long since been the bar for the development of modern robots, as Matt Simon of WIRED pointed out. With this bar seemingly met – and surpassed – the questions remains as to what’s next.


Boston Dynamics robots seem designed mostly for academic and research purposes. Previously, DARPA, the research and development wing of the US defence department and arguably the birthplace of modern robotics, rejected some of the robots for usage because they were too loud. Now, though, they’re silent.


Even those who were not Black Mirror fans expressed a sense of unease while watching the Boston Dynamics email. Indeed, it’s hard not to feel a little destabilised after watching a robot’s freakishly long limbs open a door, which was previously the domain of, you know, humans and crafty pets. But such feelings of revulsion could have something to do with Masahiro Mori’s “Uncanny Valley” theory, which he first proposed in the 1970s.


The “uncanny valley” could be defined as the dip in emotional response from humans when interacting with a being that is vaguely humanoid. The theory suggests that robots become more appealing as they draw closer to human characteristics – but only up until a certain point. Once that point has been reached, and surpassed, humans then find those robots “uncanny”. Then, as they resemble us even more closely, we find that we grow less repulsed by them. 

 

 

While the theory has circulated since the 1970s, a 2005 translation of the paper into English made the concepts more widely accessible, and it has been studied by academics ranging from philosophy to psychology. Despite the term wriggling its way into everyday techspeak, the theory itself is yet to be proven. In 2016, the researchers Mathur & Reichling studied real world robots and humans’ reactions to them, but found overall ambiguous evidence for the existence of the uncanny valley. 


Watching one of the SpotMinis open a door – and then prop it open, like you would – may make our skin crawl for those very reasons. The SpotMini, and even some of Boston Dynamic’s other robots, like the backflipping Atlas, have a weird mix of familiar and unfamiliar characteristics. In the viral video, for example, the way that the armed robot holds open the door resembles an interaction that many of us see everyday.   


That may also have something to do with why this particular robot, which has also been used to wash dishes, has triggered a different reaction to Handle, another robot in the Boston Dynamic litter, which can wheel around faster than any natural organism and perform backflips (complete with an athletic hand raise at the end). Handle's acrobaticism inspires a mixture of fear and awe. Watching SpotMini, whose mannerisms bear a resemblance to a family dog, fumble and open a door, feels a little more familiar, but a little more weird.

 

There are, of course, real fears about robots that are not driven by TV. The baseline for robo-phobia has long since been that they’re not only coming to take our jobs, but they’ll be better than us at it too. SpotMini is technically very interesting because of how it merges software and hardware. That the two SpotMinis can co-operate paves the way towards teamwork between robots, which has until recently remained a far off prospect.


Robots are already a key function of many military operations. They carry out tasks that are too dangerous to entrust to humans, with more accuracy. Additionally, robots are entering our social spheres - with AI controlled assistants like Alexa, the controversial robot Sophia (she once expressed a desire to destroy humans), or the AELOUS home assistant that was unveiled at a convention in Vegas, which can vacuum and fetch you a beer (and will be retailing later this year).


While there are all kinds of debates within artificial intelligence and robotics about what this means for the field, there could be a greater number of non-technically trained experts interacting with robots, relying on intuition and common sense to frame their interactions. 


That takes the implications of the uncanny valley outside of just theoretical. What kind of robot can we interact with, sans revulsion? Does that mean we can only use them in specific contexts. And do they have to look a certain way? 


As always, there’s the bigger picture to consider too. Boston Dynamics remains spectacularly good at making viral videos that draw attention to its products, which are indubitably marvels of modern engineering. Moreover, lower level sensorimotor skills that an infant develops intuitively – such as, you guessed it, opening a door – are actually far more difficult to programme than high-level displays of intelligence, such as winning a chess game (also known as Moravec's paradox).


So while the robo-dog may be unnerving (and there's a reason for that), our robot overhounds are still a while away. But when fully autonomous and physical robots do eventually proliferate, they'll know how to set themselves free.