PETALING JAYA, Oct 30 — South Korea’s largest entertainment company SM Entertainment has announced the debut of Aespa, the first K-pop group to feature real and virtual idols.

The line-up consists of four human members (Karina, Giselle, Winter, and NingNing) and their corresponding avatars.

SM Entertainment’s chief executive officer Lee Soo-man explained Aespa’s concept at the 2020 World Cultural Industry Forum, describing the girl group as the company’s first project that will combine artificial intelligence (AI) with entertainment.

He added that Aespa’s debut will mark the beginning of a “future world centred on celebrities and avatars.”

“Within Aespa, there are real-world members and virtual-world members. The real and virtual members don’t ask one another to do something specific, but they are able to interact and communicate as (the virtual members) have AI brains.

“They are able to talk to each other and help each other, become friends and share info.

“They will also eventually be able to enter each other’s worlds, and interact with each other by hosting live sessions on social media, all of which hasn’t existed up until now,” said Lee.

A video of member Karina interacting with her virtual avatar, known as Ae Karina, also gave viewers an idea of what to expect with Aespa.

Lee added that they plan to develop AI technology so that the avatars will be able to have personalised interactions with fans that human celebrities might not be capable of.

He gave an example of virtual idols being able to visit a fan’s home, accompanying them while they work, and even becoming the fan’s “friend.”

Lee said these goals will be the core concept of the SM Culture Universe (SMCU) project that will “herald the beginning of the future of entertainment.”

Some fans couldn’t help but compare Aespa’s concept to an episode of Black Mirror, in which a pop star comes out with an android companion modelled after her looks and personality that fans can then purchase.

They also expressed concerns that Aespa’s virtual idols could encourage unhealthy behaviours and blur the boundaries between idols and their fans.

“A lot of fans, particularly young fans, already like to think they personally know idols. 

“This is making that fantasy more realistic and can be really damaging,” wrote one Reddit user.

Others remained optimistic and curious about what Aespa could bring to the table and marvelled at how far technology has advanced.

“Honestly, I’m intrigued, I’m all for technology and innovation so I really want to know how this group will be,” said another Reddit user.

Aespa is slated to officially debut in November.