AI-enabled virtual humans become craze in China
The next step
Published: Sep 15, 2022 08:07 PM
A visitor interacts with the virtual figure Banzhao at the 2022 World Metaverse Conference. Photo: IC

A visitor interacts with the virtual figure Banzhao at the 2022 World Metaverse Conference. Photo: IC

 Luya, a virtual singer who was admitted to a Chinese music college in 2022's back-to-school season, stole the limelight recently.

Vocal music learners at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music can sit in their classes with a digital classmate capable of singing in a characterful, true-to-life vocal tone, entirely driven by AI algorithms.

The pink-haired anime girl, developed by iFLYTEK, China's leading AI and speech tech company, is an example of the new industrial fad and fashion in the country, which highlights a strong impetus in the corporate sector to go digital, though some consider it an advertising stunt.

In August, NetDragon, a Fuzhou-based online gaming developer, appointed a virtual rotating CEO for its subsidiary, vowing to "fully promote the company's AI-enabled management strategy and the drive to build a metaverse structure," according to its release.

It is unclear how this female top executive named Tang Yu, who has been working for the company for five years, can improve the IT firm's managerial expertise, but NetDragon has tried to demonstrate that its AI employment initiative is not merely hype.

Since 2018, a group of AI-enabled virtual managers hired by the company have processed over 300,000 applications, issued about 500,000 business alerts and handed out some 1,200 rewards and penalties, most of them daily routines.

Luya, the musician, does showcase skills that are unmatched by her classmates in the real world. More than a virtual idol, she can easily mix diversified genres, render orchestrations, analyze complicated chords and explore broader possibilities of making music great fun.

China's internet magnates are also acting quick to tap their potential. Baidu launched a digital person called Xi Ling, who can provide a 24/7 tireless live streaming service, and change makeup and clothes quickly upon request to improve people's shopping experience.

Ayayi, another AI-enabled influencer, joined the online retail giant Alibaba as a digital manager. At the video sharing and streaming platform Bilibili, virtual livestreamers appear in a special column to compete with their counterparts in the real world.

A slew of Chinese TV stations have jumped on the bandwagon as well. They allowed digital hosts to broadcast news stories, moves that are designed to capture attention in the present, but are expected to revolutionize the media landscape in the future.

Lu Yanxia, an analyst from IDC, a market consultancy, said that AI digital humans have shown noticeable commercial value in some sectors, and a growing number of them will work together with human beings in the future.

But such digital beings should be properly introduced into their fields and patience is needed in the pursuit of market growth, Lu added.

In a plan to facilitate the development of the digital economy in the 14th Five-Year Plan period (2021-25), China aims to deepen the integration of AI, virtual reality and 8K tech and expand their applications in social networking, shopping, entertainment and exhibitions.

According to data from iiMedia Research, the market value in China driven by virtual humans is expected to reach 640.27 billion yuan ($92.45 billion) in 2025.