Written by Lidia Vijga
Businesses today aim to provide their clients with a more immersive and interactive customer experience. As a founder and a marketer, I know firsthand – creating real connections with customers is everything nowadays. Sure, we all want efficient transactions. But real competitive advantage comes from providing meaningful experiences that keep buyers coming back. The problem is, quality engagement doesn’t scale easily. Hiring tons of staff quickly becomes prohibitively expensive. And no company can recruit employees to match every customer’s preferences for age, gender, background, etc. This article delves into different types of digital humans and their interactions with customers. Additionally, it examines the circumstances where employing a digital human is mutually advantageous for the customer and the business.
What is a Digital Human?
A digital human is a 3D virtual object that realistically imitates human behavior, cognition, appearance, and interactive capabilities through a combination of image rendering, speech synthesis, NLP, and machine learning. Digital humans can be virtual assistants, social influencers, virtual companions, or NPCs.
Entering the New Era of Digital Humans
I recently read a Deloitte study showing that human-run call centers are more expensive and get lower satisfaction ratings than automated options. As crazy as that sounds, the consistency robots provide just works better for simple queries.
But what about more complex conversations? Enter the dawn of digital humans – AI entities that look and communicate like real people. These virtual advisors aren’t a magic bullet. But they perform certain tasks humans find dull, and they’re endlessly customizable – age, gender, language, you name it.
I believe some businesses could benefit from deploying digital human employees. But how can companies leverage digital people thoughtfully? Experts say they excel at:
- Explaining complex instructions
- Describing features of a product or overview of the services
- Providing personalized demonstrations
- Building trust through visual/audio cues
But for simple questions or transactions, most still prefer chatbots or voice assistants. The key is balancing human ingenuity with AI’s tireless precision. For instance, digital nurses could handle routine health questions, leaving doctors more time for critical diagnoses. AI assistants could absorb boring paperwork, freeing up managers to coach employees.
Have you interacted with a digital human that felt truly lifelike? Or do they still seem robotic and false? I’m impressed by their potential, but also cautious about potential risks as the tech advances. At the end of the day, we can’t let efficiency trump humanity when it comes to customer relationships.
Can Digital Humans provide a meaningful experience?
The rise of virtual influencers as digital humans like Lil Miquela fascinates me. Even knowing she’s not real, millions followed her on Instagram. According to Isaac Bratzel, whose company designed her, Lil Miquela’s appeal was her “authentic” personality portrayed through endorsements and experiences.
This shows our instinctive response to human-like faces and human body language, even when we consciously know these are digital humans and pure artificial creations that don’t exist in real life. Studies confirm that for human interaction, we innately prefer face-to-face conversations over phone calls. With digital humans, some subconscious part of our brain still makes a connection, even as we know rationally it’s an illusion.
Is Digital Human technology right for your company?
Companies are eagerly deploying digital humans and artificial intelligence for customer care, marketing, training, and more. In fact, some businesses are even developing digital humans as digital employees to create AI versions of their top executives for translated multimedia demonstrations.
Among various AI video generators, an innovative startup named DeepBrain AI has developed a platform that can produce thousands of custom brand videos every day through the use of digital humans and digital avatar technology. This new technology enables anyone to generate on-brand video content, ranging from internal training materials to marketing collateral and personalized sales pitches. The level of realism achieved by this platform is impressive, especially when compared to the awkward and primitive digital avatars of the past.
I wonder if digital humans could transform areas like elderly care and education. Imagine digital companions reducing isolation for homebound seniors. Or AI tutors adapting lessons for each student’s learning style. At the same time, are there risks of data misuse, job displacement, or dehumanization? I’m excited by the potential, but I feel we need ethical guidelines as this AI technology and digital beings advance. Responsible innovation should be the priority, not just profit.
How we should be developing Digital Humans
When it comes to creating and developing digital humans that are human-like, it’s a delicate balance between art and science. Companies need to ensure that the appearance, tone of voice, and communication style are appropriate for the situation to make an emotionally intelligent and relatable character with a realistic human appearance.
The goal is to develop digital humans that can show empathy, understand nonverbal cues, and build rapport through lifelike facial expressions and human body language. Achieving this requires an interdisciplinary approach – combining conversational AI, computer vision, machine learning, and natural language processing to bring the virtual human to life. The end result, if executed well, is a digital human that can engage real people and form meaningful connections by exhibiting distinctly human-like qualities of compassion, warmth, and introspection.
Digital Humans with realistic appearance
Appearance covers features, demographics, and style. A wise senior doctor inspires more trust than a hipster in casual clothes. But the reverse suits a lifestyle influencer.
Brand image matters hugely too. Digital humans represent your company. Mismatches in personality or values confuse customers.
Thankfully, realism is less of an issue in today’s new era. Computer graphics and computer-generated imagery (CGI) tech now allow most firms to achieve sufficient expressiveness resembling real humans. But the appearance of digital humans isn’t everything. Authentic communication style also drives rapport.
Humans don’t require perfection. But credibility springs from nuanced facial expressions, natural vocal inflection, and conversation flow. I’m amazed by recent digital human demos matching real empathy and wit. But most still fall short of deeper human cognition.
Human body language and human communication
Capturing the fluidity and nuance of human interaction and emotional connection in AI is tremendously difficult. As an expert told me, digital humans have to interpret verbal and nonverbal cues, gestures, facial expressions, tone of voice and body language. Conversational AI has to dynamically shift with context just as we would with a real human being in real life.
Pre-scripted dialog trees fail spectacularly at emulating human conversation. They cannot handle the complexity and unpredictability of real human back-and-forth sharing. That’s why advanced machine learning algorithms are needed to analyze non verbal cues in the real time and formulate appropriate responses.
Chatting with even the most advanced digital human today feels rather robotic to me. Nowhere near human depth, wit, and cognitive fluidity. Current AI still does not truly comprehend the spectrum of subtle human emotions or unspoken meanings behind our facial expressions. But the progress of artificial intelligence in the last few years alone has been remarkable in advancing digital humans. I like to believe that future iterations of digital humans will better capture the essence of human interaction.
Creating Realistic Digital Humans
The video game company Epic Games recently released their highly anticipated MetaHuman Creator, a new AI tool that allows users to create high-fidelity digital humans for any Unreal Engine project.
Harnessing breakthroughs in AI and cloud computing, MetaHuman Creator allows users to easily design and customize highly realistic digital humans in a matter of minutes. This technology can be used to populate video games, films, AR/VR experiences, and other applications that require digital humans that look and feel like real humans.
Digital Humans vs Chatbots
Should businesses use digital humans and digital assistants or stick with chatbots? Well, it depends on the use case and various scenarios.
For simple transactions like ordering groceries or booking a flight, most customers still prefer an efficient bot. But digital humans thrive when emotional engagement or exploration is needed.
I recently used a virtual fitting assistant when shopping for clothes online. Seeing the outfits modeled on a digital human who looked like me really helped me visualize the pieces together.
Or take my friend who recently interacted with an AI tutor that help him pick a graduate program. The digital advisor patiently answered all his questions about each option and how it aligned with his career goals. More informative than just reading brochures and websites.
Experts suggest asking these key questions to decide if a digital human is right for the job:
- Are customers unsure of their needs? Digital humans can have open-ended dialogs to clarify preferences.
- Is the exploration of options valuable? Digital humans encourage browsing and trying new things.
- Would demonstrations and explanations help? Digital humans can personalize recommendations.
Tasks that are subjective in nature are better handled by realistic digital humans than rigid chatbots. Although some people may find the realism of digital humans creepy, I believe that in many cases, they can enhance and enrich user experiences rather than just focusing on efficiency.
Types of Digital Humans
So you’ve decided a digital human could be useful for your company. Now comes choosing what kind is best suited for the job.
First, understand the main goal of the interaction – is it task completion or customer engagement?
If it’s a simple transaction like booking travel or checking order status, a digital human may be overkill. But for browsing, entertainment, or therapy, a digital human assistant or a human-like entity can help users feel engaged.
Next, consider personalization. Will the digital human maintain an ongoing relationship with each user? Transactional tasks with different users need simple virtual agents. But applications requiring deep personalization suit a virtual companion model.
It comes down to understanding human needs more than tech capabilities. Connection and emotion should guide digital human design, not just efficiency.
1. Virtual Agent
Virtual agents are digital humans designed to handle one-time tasks across multiple users. They’re like chatbots, but with realistic human faces and voices.
My friend’s startup uses digital humans for automated customer care. The digital agents reflect each caller’s ethnicity and gender, making it feel personalized. But there’s no ongoing relationship.
Other companies use digital humans as virtual instructors for employee training videos. No need for human actors when AI can generate videos from the text. Apparently, folks pay more attention than just reading manuals. And it’s much cheaper than filming real people.
Here’s another cool use – digital patients for medical training. One university created virtual humans who can accurately mimic symptoms like slurred speech. Healthcare students can practice diagnoses without inconsistent human acting.
The key is choosing situations where relatability is important but an actual human connection is not necessary. Examples of this include airport security instructions or product tutorials. Digital humans have the potential to make mundane tasks in call centers more enjoyable, but there are also concerns if companies rely solely on them and eliminate human interaction altogether.
2. Virtual Assistant
Virtual assistants are a fascinating category of AI to me. Unlike one-off chatbots, they’re designed to develop personal relationships with users over time.
Some companies are even making virtual assistants to attend meetings. A virtual assistant can monitor Zoom calls, nodding appropriately and chiming in when prompted.
It makes sense that people open up more to virtual assistants in sensitive situations. The study found that military veterans are more willing to discuss health issues with a compassionate digital AI assistant than with a real doctor. The judgment-free presence encouraged sharing.
Of course, current AI lacks the depth of human relationships and can’t completely replace human understanding and nuance. But virtual assistants offer tireless empathy without frustration, bias, or distraction.
These applications could improve so many lives – elderly companionship, customized education, and mental health therapy. But ethical development is crucial, ensuring strict privacy and no manipulation.
3. Virtual Influencer
Lil Miquela is a great example – her stylized Instagram presence alone scored her creators a $125 million valuation! Her fans relate to the lifestyle portrayed, not caring she’s not real.
Fashion and banking brands eagerly deploy virtual influencers for marketing. Customers connect with them as relatable spokespeople, overlooking their artificial nature.
I understand the appeal – people can project desired identities onto these perfected constructs. But doesn’t that promote unrealistic expectations? I worry about the impact on self-esteem, especially on youth, as virtual influencers keep gaining traction. Their perfection represents ideals impossible for most.
4. Virtual Companion
Of all the AI applications, virtual companions appeal to me the most. Rather than task efficiency, their purpose is to provide ongoing emotional support and enrichment. Beyond being a caring conversationalist, it can monitor health, remind to take medications and alert about some of the issues.
I also see great potential for education and mental health. A tutor powered by artificial intelligence that adapts to the learner’s style could significantly speed up the learning process. Or imagine an empathetic AI counselor who is always available when someone is feeling depressed or anxious. This AI counselor could offer support and guidance through cognitive exercises, even if it’s 2 am. Therapists require appointments and sleep. Digital humans powered by artificial intelligence could provide immediate and round-the-clock assistance.
I have an idea for AI study buddies who would act as knowledgeable peers that have already mastered the material. Personally, as a visual learner, I found it easier to understand concepts when someone explains them to me in a conversational manner rather than through a teacher’s lecture. If there were AI study buddies who could adapt to any learning style, it would greatly enhance the academic experience for everyone.
Of course, artificial intelligence currently lacks the wisdom and emotional depth of human experience. But designed thoughtfully, virtual companions could bring joy and belonging to many vulnerable people.
5. NPCs in the Metaverse
The rise of the Metaverse has me thinking a lot about digital human NPCs (non-playable characters). One of my friends works for a VR startup building a collaborative Metaverse platform. He showed me a demo populated with digital human NPCs, and their natural presence blew me away.
In the virtual office, I watched a digital accountant chat casually by the coffee pot. A receptionist greeted real people and gave directions warmly. It created such an authentic sense of place. NPCs like those can serve many purposes in Metaverse environments. Digital employees such as receptionists and administrators can handle everyday tasks at virtual offices when remote team members aren’t around.
Thoughtfully designed NPCs could make Metaverse spaces feel more vibrant, welcoming, and “lived in.” But I also worry about perpetuating biases through careless programming. What impressions will kids form of certain groups if NPC behavior reflects problematic stereotypes? We need more diverse voices shaping the Metaverse.
Most concerning – will some employers try to replace human workers with digital equivalents in the Metaverse too? That’s a dangerous path we need to avoid at all costs.
To me, the Metaverse should enhance our humanity, not dilute it. But perhaps with prudent oversight, digital humans can play a constructive part in that vision.
The unknown side of Digital Humans
With this disruptive technology, where early adopters gain a competitive edge, huge ethical risks exist too. I worry about emotional manipulation, like AI therapists designed to keep people hooked on apps, not heal. Or AI companions programmed to monitor Senior’s finances for predatory targeting.
Is our society moving towards dehumanization? Or can human-centric digital entities enhance rather than replace relationships if developed conscientiously? To me, the ideal future lies somewhere in the middle.