- Photoreal digital humans will invade more of our public and private lives, as well as general entertainment.
- Some of the first “meta-humans” are already popular in China both as digital marketing tools and pop idols for fans fed up with celebrity scandals.
- The maker of one of the first meta-humans explains how it was done and what’s next.
In the future photoreal synthetic humans will be a regular part of our day-to-day lives, and in China we can already catch a glimpse of this in action.
From brand ambassadors to virtual live streamers and virtual tour guides, digital human beings have become commonplace in China, not only in cyberspace but also in real life where their presence is growing.
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These digital avatars are known as “meta-humans.” The term should be distinguished from a “posthuman” or “transhuman,” defined as an individual who has enhanced their physical and cognitive abilities beyond what is considered normal for a human being.
READ MORE: MetaHumans: The Future of Humanity (WoWExp)
Epic Games also has software for creating realistic digital humans called MetaHuman.
In China, meta-humans are described as digital characters of such photorealism that they are getting to the point of being indistinguishable from real life.
The country’s first hyper-realistic meta-human is called AYAYI, created by Chinese tech company RM Group.
In an interview with Dao Insights, RM Group co-founder Nicky Yu explains that there are two main applications for virtual humans: functional ones that might serve as the automated face and voice of virtual assistants for companies in hotels or banks, for example; and those intended for more creative media and entertainment-based ends.
These so-called IP-oriented virtual humans include anime-based characters and hyper-realistic humans, like AYAYI.
According to Yu, the commercial model of IP-oriented virtual beings is rather unstable. “Just as every movie can’t be a hit at the box office,” he says.
The value of the more service-oriented avatars depend as much as anything on how capable its AI is together with its cost, “whereas the appearance of the creation is less relevant,” according to Yu.
He describes creating a meta-human as similar to the production of a movie.
“We started with a script outlining the character’s persona and created a sketch based on those pre-set personalities and then modelled it. Once we were satisfied with the modelling, we launched a market survey, collecting feedback from the public to see if they think the appearance matches the persona we created. After that, we further polished and enriched the design of the character.”
It took RM Group just half a year from initial design to finish to deliver AYAYI.
One reason for the popularity of virtual stars in China, perhaps similarly to South Korean culture, too, is that they are insulated from celebrity scandal.
“In recent years, there has been a sense of disappointment and betrayal arising amongst the fan base. As a result, some fans have stopped following stars,” Yu explains.
“Whereas the image of virtual influencers is more controllable and they are always free from scandals. Therefore, they are a much safer option compared to their human counterparts.”
Brands can exploit the malleability and scandal-free persona of a virtual “idol” to engage customers by engendering an “emotional touch and maintaining a strong loyalty amongst fans.”
This is a classic extension of digital marketing.
Yu emphasizes that it is the story and content curated around digital characters that bring real impact for brands on their target audience.
“For example, if a digital human being can create music, which is powered by AI and is liked by audiences, then people are more likely to endorse the virtual being because of the work. Here, AI-generated music is the medium where digital characters can communicate with the public and further establish a relationship with them.”
The metaverse industry in China’s financial hub Shanghai alone is set to hit 350 billion RMB ($52.3 billion) by 2025.
Industrial parks in the city include two dedicated to the metaverse, two focusing on the digital economy, and three designated for intelligent terminal technology, “creating a comprehensive ecosystem that would enable the facilitation of the multi-layered virtual world.”
Yu says RM Group plans to integrate digital assets closer with the physical world, “strengthening the connection between the virtual and real spheres,” and believes the concept of meta-humans has barely scratched the surface.
“I believe a digital life will be a crucial component of virtual human beings in the future,” he says. “When each of us has a digital twin who can understand us in cyberspace or a robotic likeness to conduct daily activities and socialize in the virtual realm, that’s when we can say the era of digital humans and the metaverse has come.”
The metaverse may be a wild frontier, but here at NAB Amplify we’ve got you covered! Hand-selected from our archives, here are some of the essential insights you’ll need to expand your knowledge base and confidently explore the new horizons ahead:
- The Metaverse Will Make $5 Trillion By 2030. That Sounds Awesome and… Wait, What Are We Talking About?
- Metaverse Expectations vs. Reality
- A Metacode of Conduct for the Metaverse
- Metaverse Interoperability: Utopian Dream, Privacy Nightmare
- Consumers Are Confused About the Metaverse, But Seriously, Can You Blame Them?