The desire for omnipotence and the illusion of hyperreality: thestrange case of the virtual hostess

Debora Viviani


The following headlines are a selection of those that appeared in today’s newspapers in Italy: The virtual hostess arrives at the airport, Bologna Airport launches the virtual hostess, The virtual hostess arrives at Marconi Airport, Bologna: virtual hostess, motion-activated by people.

What surprises us about this story? At a time of major scientific discoveries in the fields of technology and computers, with frequent launches of innovative IT products in the market, what is so curious about this news? Let us try to understand what the virtual hostess is. It is a woman (?), although it might be better described as a computer facility, which uses holographic images and is activated when people approach, providing different types of information in Italian and English. Its technology offers services that aim to enhance the operating efficiency of information services and increase passenger satisfaction by reducing waiting times.

The special feature of this machine is its appearance, as the virtual hostess has the face of an actual member of staff at the airport.

Jean Baudrillard would certainly have smiled on hearing this news and said: I told you so!

Indeed, the virtual hostess is an example of what Baudrillard defined as third-order simulacra. These true simulacra are copies that destroy reality and cause a form of void, a general nothingness that even encompasses the subject (Baudrillard, 1976).


virtual hostess; simulacrum; hyperreality

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