Surely we have all at least heard of Twitch by now. For the as-yet uninitiated: imagine you had your own TV channel. What would you do on it? Although Twitch really got going as a place for gamers to stream the action, there are almost as many people jamming out on their guitars, or building guitars, or just talking about guitars. And that’s just the example that uses guitars — if you can think of it, someone is probably doing it live on Twitch, within the Terms of Service, of course.
Along with the legions of people showing their faces and singing their hearts out, you have people in partial disguise, and then you have v-tubers. That stands for virtual tubers, and it just means that the person is using an anime avatar to convey themselves.
Now that you’re all caught up, let’s digest the following item together: there’s a v-tuber on Twitch that’s controlled entirely by AI. Let me run that by you again: there’s a person called [Vedal] who operates a Twitch channel. Rather than stream themselves building Mad Max-style vehicles and fighting them in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, or singing Joni Mitchell tunes, [Vedal] pulls the strings of an AI they created, which is represented by an animated character cleverly named Neuro-sama. Not only does Neuro-sama know how to play Minecraft and osu!, she speaks gamer and interacts regularly with chat in snarky, 21st century fashion. And that really is the key behind Twitch success — interacting with chat in a meaningful way.
Born of the Internet
Neuro-sama was born in 2018 when [Vedal] created an AI and taught it to play osu. And that it can do very well (video). But playing games is only half of the story. The rest is the character and the chat.
Neuro-sama didn’t speak or have an avatar back in 2018. But [Vedal] relaunched the project in December 2022 using a free sample avatar from Live 2D and an anime-esque voice. She was made intelligent using a large language model (LLM), which are trained using text from the Internet. Of course, the problem is that the Internet is a wretched hive of scum and villainy, and thus the models often spout racist and sexist nonsense. So as you might imagine, it takes a team of moderators to keep both Neuro-sama and chat in line.
Weird with a Beard, or Live and Let Broadcast?
Now I ask you, is this weird? When I first read this, I was turned off. I personally used to nervously craft artisan keycaps, with no face camera, to an audience of robots. Now I write songs and sing and play them with a 4K pointed at me and all my weird guitar faces. I’m real, and my knee-jerk reaction is that Neuro-sama is just so many levels of fake. Of course there are plenty of fake people on Twitch who proudly show their faces too, believe me.
But not only do I feel that is an insensitive and butthurt take, I think it’s the wrong way to take Twitch altogether, which is to say personally. Twitch, like Reddit, is whatever the beholder shapes it into being for them. The point of the platform is that people are free to do what they want, within reason.
They say there’s nothing new under the sun. And while a Twitch jazz musician can be unfathomably entertaining with wide crossover appeal, I suppose that ‘smart-assed, Minecraft-playing AI’ is just a sexier notion, perhaps simply because girl. It’s kind of like reading a person’s words versus taking in a piece of their visual art — the latter is simply easier to consume, although not always easy to stomach. No matter what I think, Neuro-sama has over 50,000 followers to my 200, so bully for her and [Vedal].
Like most streams, Neuro-sama’s will continue to grow and change as time goes on. [Vedal] has plans for her to learn more games, and to get the custom avatar she so richly deserves. Oddly enough, that would be the weird part — if she suddenly looked completely different.
[Ed note: Between writing this and it going live, Neuro-sama seems to have been taken offline, for violating the Terms of Service.]