Companies vie to tap digital people in the financial, retail, governance, media, entertainment and automotive sectors
At a bank branch in Shanghai, an elegant female receptionist dressed in a blue outfit welcomes customers. She “feels” clients in a good mood, gets chatty and introduces more of the bank’s wealth management services.
Being aware that some customers frown, she becomes more cautious and does nothing but answer customers’ questions, such as printing itemized bank statements.
She was the first digital employee at Bank of Ningbo’s Shanghai branch. On a screen the size of normal people, she can also answer more than 550 frequently asked questions about banking and more than 3,000 additional questions.
Powered by an artificial intelligence system, she can learn to answer 50 new questions every day, and an on-screen camera can also tell whether customers are smiling or not, said Luan Qing, general manager of the digital culture and entertainment business at SenseTime, who developed digital human technology.
The digital worker offers an inside look at how a wider range of industries are beginning to embrace AI-powered digital people to increase efficiency and increase resonance with customers.
Thanks to rapid technological advancements, virtual people, previously only seen in the money-intensive entertainment industry such as movies, are becoming more common in people’s daily lives and work, according to experts and business leaders.
From virtual anchors broadcasting news 24 hours a day to virtual dancers and singers attracting fans around the world to a digital worker who wins the prize for best new employee from a Chinese real estate developer in 2021, digital people are getting smarter.
The efforts show how Chinese startups and heavyweights are struggling to bring virtual creatures to wider applications, they said.
About 20 digital people made their debut at the Beijing 2022 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games alone.
They played several roles: AI guides to sign language explaining the matches to the hearing impaired in the audience; weather forecast anchors; an Olympic Public Welfare Ambassador; and live streaming anchors selling Winter Olympics souvenirs online.
Currently, more than 280,000 enterprises in China are engaged in digital people-related businesses, with the compound annual growth rate of enterprises registered in the past five years reaching nearly 60 percent, data from Qichacha, a company that maintain company records.
The popularity of digital people is closely related to the concept of the metaverse, a tech buzzword that has gripped the global tech industry since last year.
Digital humans are the avatars of humans to enter the metaverse, which promises an integration of virtual and real worlds, said Yu Jianing, co-author of the book. metaverse and director of Huobi University, an educational and research institution focused on groundbreaking technologies.
In addition, with the development and integration of AI, virtual reality, high-precision display and other technologies, digital people are becoming more and more like people, from image, facial expression, posture, action to speech, semantics, voice, showing their resonance with people, said Luan of Sense-Time.
“Digital humans produced by artists were common in movies and games. The production process was usually labor intensive and required high artistic skills, so quite expensive. But now, assisted by AI, as the production process and operation of digital humans become increasingly automated and the As production costs fall, digital people are likely to enter more sectors such as finance, retail, administration and automobiles,” Luan said.
Based on the level of intelligence and the level of automation involved in their production, digital people can be divided into five levels, according to a white paper jointly published by Sense-Time and the Augmented Reality Core Technology Industry Alliance.
And digital people who work at Bank of Ningbo are at level 4, which means they can interact with people relatively naturally.
Their production process could be shortened significantly thanks to AI, Luan said, adding that level 5 digital human is still a concept and considered intelligent like humans. The production process will be fully automatic.
The virtual celebrity market reached 6.22 billion yuan ($933.34 million) in China last year, up nearly 80 percent year on year. According to a report by market consultancy iiMedia, it is expected to grow to 20 billion yuan in the next two years.
Xiaoice, another Chinese AI pioneer, is also trying to tap into the opportunities of digital humans. The company developed Cui Xiaopan, the first digital employee of Chinese real estate developer Vanke.
“She” is responsible for reminding the employees to pay the company’s bills on time and collect the bills due. The resolution rate of the cases Cui handled was a whopping 91.44 percent and the new hire was ultimately chosen for Vanke’s best new hire award in 2021.
Yu Liang, chairman of Vanke, said Cui joined the company in February 2021. Thanks to the support of powerful AI algorithms, “she” quickly learned how to find problems in processes and data and detect abnormal documents much more efficiently than human workers.
Li Di, CEO of Xiaoice, said: “With joint efforts with our partners, an era has dawned when AI creatures become reliable, stable and tireless.”
AI creatures developed by Xiaoice now act as two video hosts or anchors for China’s National Business Daily. They have been broadcasting news for more than seven months. Xiaoice said the overall naturalness of the virtual hosts has improved to a level that makes them almost indistinguishable from humans.
Also, the news programs are completely developed by AI technologies in an unmanned operation that encompasses the entire process of video acquisition, editing and broadcasting.