THE DRUM: How Dark Horses used Twise to give virtual Fifa presidency candidate a voice

How Dark Horses used Twise to give virtual Fifa presidency candidate a voice

The generative audio chat AI tool was the key element behind the recent launch of the sports agency’s footballing crusader.

Hope Sogni is a virtual influencer created by sports marketing agency Dark Horses intended to thumb a nose at Fifa and highlight misogyny in football. She’s also an interesting use case for an AI tool that has flown under the radar so far.

Most virtual influencers, such as Lil Miquela or Rumi, exist only as characters in animated videos or CGI stills created for social media. They’re only interactive in the sense that the people really running their accounts might reply to comments online. But users can speak to Sogni in real-time with their own voices, in a kind of interface similar to a chatbot or a voice assistant.

Sogni is a character running for election as Fifa president, in opposition to Gianni Infantino, the current president who was recently unanimously re-elected, and the broader culture of misogyny present in the sport today. She has been interviewed by The Guardian and can talk with users through the Twise browser app about her campaign.

Behind the character is agency Dark Horses and a range of allies in the football world, including the former vice-captain of Australia’s women’s football team, Moya Dodd, and Lewes FC Women’s chief exec, Maggie Murphy. The group worked on the project for months, building up a databr of football-related knowledge to give the AI tool relevant, specialist information required to hold a convincing conversation on the topic.

“She is an embodiment of multiple women from the world of sport who have these progressive views,” says creative director Adam Burns.

The keystone behind the project is Twise, an AI tool that enables the creation of personas that can respond to spoken word prompts from users. The tech means that users can converse with the character in real-time, making her “feel more real,” according to Burns. “It’s as if she does exist,” he says.

The agency and its collaborators hope that Sogni can act as a mouthpiece for anti-sexist sentiment in the game. Players, coaches and commentators face a hostile audience if they speak out against misogyny in football and the risk of going from “the chosen to the frozen… it can really affect their careers,” says Burns. “Sogni exists because it is too dangerous for some women to air these views.”

An analog equivalent – an actor playing a role, for example – wouldn’t have been as comprehensive, says art director Paco Lopez. “It would be impossible to give an actor all the knowledge of football we need to put in. The best way to get the concept across is with AI.”

Sogni’s face was created using Midjourney, confirms Lopez, after a “long process” spent defining the look of the character. But Twise is the tech behind her voice and Lopez and Burns found the tool when the company’s founder, former BBH chief creative Joakim Borgstrom, shared a test of its tech on Linkedin, featuring a virtual version of Greta Thunberg.

The voice users hear talking to Sogni is, Lopez says, “a mix of Serena Williams, Megan Rapinoe and Angela Davis,” taken from recordings of the three. The character’s American accent, he adds, reflects the source material and the strength of the women’s game in the US.

The project took seven months of work from the agency and its collaborators. An earlier version was scrapped for aesthetic reasons and the current edition is the result of a lot of back and forth between Dark Horses, Dodd, Murphy and others. “We started working on it in January… the initial plan was to go out around the Women’s World Cup [back in August],” says Burns. The project was delayed when their testing found Sogni’s knowledge databr insufficient. “There has been lots of lots of tinkering and improving. She’s not finished. She never will be.”

The teaser video of the character was animated separately; if the occasion requires it, the team can create more animations featuring Sogni. “When we need to address a certain issue, we can create those assets. They feel a bit more sharable than seeing a static image,” says Burns.

Sogni is by no means perfect. She has a tendency to turn pretty much every question back to the subject of football (though, in this regard, she is perhaps no different from some real people you can find in the pub). The use of Midjourney, virtual influencer techniques, and Twise together to provide a pseudonym or mouthpiece to real activists provides a really positive use case for AI, Burns says.

“In a way, it’s an advert for AI. It can be used for good.”