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AI humans to play increased economic role

By FAN FEIFEI | China Daily Global | Updated: 2022-09-21 10:02
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Visitors check out interactive digital avatars during the 2022 China International Fair for Trade in Services (CIFTIS) held in Beijing on Sept 2. ZOU HONG/CHINA DAILY

Powered by tech advances, avatars will provide sundry help, companionship

Every Monday, a young, good-looking female anchor named Xiao C appears in an online video program run by, a news website owned by China Media Group.

Dressed in a pink T-shirt with her hair tied in two buns, she broadcasts sporting events like football, basketball, volleyball, swimming and track and field, as well as posing questions to the audience. She can even interact naturally with human sports commentators and talk about tactics in a football match.

Xiao C is a virtual replica of real-life news anchors developed by Chinese tech giant Baidu Inc. She can mimic human facial expressions, body language and movement, and is almost indistinguishable from a real person.

The virtual anchor offers a glimpse into how a wider range of sectors have begun embracing AI-powered digital human models. New technological advances have made virtual humans, who are highly similar to real humans in appearance and behavior, increasingly visible in a wide range of industries like broadcasting, retail, finance, entertainment, education, culture and tourism.

From digital financial advisers who introduce banks' wealth management services to customers to virtual anchors providing live commentary in sign language for hearing-impaired viewers, digital humans are set to play a greater role in people's daily lives, industry experts said.

The size of China's virtual human market is forecast to reach 270 billion yuan ($38.5 billion) by 2030, according to an industry report released by QbitAI, an industry services platform focusing on AI and cutting-edge technology.

Revenue generated by virtual humans designed to be unique, such as virtual celebrities, is expected to reach 175 billion yuan in China by 2030, while that from the service-oriented virtual humans is forecast to exceed 95 billion yuan, the report said.

Statistics from Qichacha, a databank that tracks business registrations, showed China now has more than 280,000 enterprises engaged in businesses related to digital humans, with the compound annual growth rate of newly registered enterprises in the past five years reaching nearly 60 percent.

Recently, Baidu has launched two companionship-oriented virtual beings, Lin Kaikai and Ye Youyou. Powered by Baidu's Plato-an AI model for dialogue generation that is trained in over 10 billion parameters collected from social media conversations in both English and Chinese-the two digital humans are capable of smooth, humanlike interaction.

They can participate in conversations through texts, voice messages and emojis. They can also offer customized wake-up call services and learn about the preferences of their users through increased frequency of chats and interactions, Baidu said.

Given the rapid and stressful pace of urban life, digital avatar companions can relieve people's anxiety and satisfy their desire for emotional connections. This has bolstered a boom in the digital human industry, said Li Shiyan, head of the digital human and robotics section at Baidu.

"The application of advanced AI technologies will keep bringing down the cost of creating digital humans and significantly improve their interactions with real humans," Li said.

Baidu released its digital avatar platform Xiling in 2021, which provides a complete set of services for the creation and operation of virtual hosts, virtual celebrities and virtual brand spokespersons for clients in the fields of broadcasting, television, internet, finance and retail, enabling more industries to use virtual humans.

In addition, using Xiling's intelligent dialogue tools, creators can quickly customize a digital human's conversational ability, letting it adapt and learn over time.

"With breakthroughs made in artificial intelligence-powered algorithms, the production cost of digital humans will be reduced by 10 to 100 times, and the production period will be shortened from several months to just a few hours as well," Yuan Foyu, vice-president of Baidu, said in an earlier interview. These expected developments will result in large-scale application of digital humans in a variety of industries, she said.

Baidu has worked with Shanghai Pudong Development Bank, China Everbright Bank and China Unicom to launch service-oriented digital humans to enhance operational efficiency and reduce labor costs. Digital humans have been used for customer service, document review, internal training and sales at Shanghai Pudong Development Bank.

Officials have high hopes for the market as Beijing released an action plan in August that bolsters the innovative development of the digital human sector. The scale of the virtual human industry in Beijing is predicted to exceed 50 billion yuan by 2025.

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