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AI-enabled virtual humans become a craze in China

Xinhua Updated: 2022-09-26

BEIJING -- Luya, a virtual singer who was admitted to a Chinese music college in this year'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 Artificial Intelligence (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.

Last month, 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 quick to tap the 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 at one's request to improve the 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 live streamers are arranged to open 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 introduced into their proper scenarios 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 (2021-2025), 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 U.S. dollars) in 2025.

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