The fact is, tech is the bleeding edge. Everyone can see that nearly every milestone in the modern world revolves around tech. The accelerated pace of innovation has delivered yet another marvel to our doorstep: virtual beings. With more than $320 million investment (as of July 2022) in startups, it’s normal to be curious about what virtual beings are and what they do.
What are Virtual Beings?
It’s important to begin with a clarification of what virtual beings are. In essence, they are artificial people running on an AI heart or engine.
If you’re familiar with the term metaverse, virtual beings are some type of precursor to that. The metaverse is simply a universe of virtual worlds. Virtual beings inhabit those virtual worlds, therefore, it makes sense that the virtual beings existed first before their worlds were built.
The virtual beings themselves are representations of humans living in digital spaces. They’re characters or entities possessing solely a digital domain existence. However, they utilize avenues such as advertising and social media to interact with the physical realm. They also live in shared mediums such as games and Internet-native space, as well as hologram technology.
The scope of virtual beings begins with human-controlled avatars manipulated using motion capture technology. But, it doesn’t end there, spanning all the way across to fully-sentient anthropomorphic artificial intelligence.
The intersection of multiple technological trends that support the concept of virtual beings. These include artificial intelligence, gaming, high-fidelity CGI, AR, and AI. They also inhabit the periphery of human social psychology, that is, anthropomorphic design, cultural animism and desire for companionship.
It’s tempting to mistake virtual beings for animated or computer-generated characters, but they’re not the same. Virtual beings have such a level of detail that ensures people have a hard time distinguishing them from humans.
The development of “smart” virtual beings is dependent on advances in artificial intelligence, making room for a highly natural interaction and co-experiencing.
Benefits of Virtual Beings
Computers have made life and business exponentially better for all of humankind for close to a century now. The reality of virtual beings is only going to amplify those positive outcomes. But, before we jump ahead of ourselves, we should consider some of the current benefits of virtual beings that should make a company consider investing in them.
1. Virtual beings can be used to simulate safe and effective learning environments
Eliminating the fear of judgment helps learners become more comfortable. They can go on to try out different approaches and communication styles, without fearing that they’ll make mistakes.
2. It’s easier for people to deal with feedback from virtual humans
It’s typically hard for people to accept feedback. They consider it to be a dent to their ego to accept that they aren’t yet perfect. But, feedback is necessary for learning and growth. People seem to prefer feedback coming from an artificial entity than from a real human, so advice from these “non-human humans” is more likely to fly with them.
3. It feels less awkward role-playing with virtual beings than peers
Users feel less embarrassed when role-playing with virtual humans. That’s partly because there’s a lower likelihood of negative transference reactions which often occurs when peers are present.
4. Virtual beings are more consistent and reliable
Consistency is crucial in many aspects of work and life. Virtual humans don’t fluctuate in their moods or knowledge. Instead, they tend to get better making them even more efficient over the long term.
5. Virtual beings are a more cost-effective option than hired actors
Live training usually involves inevitable costs and logistics. This may even lead to a total cancellation of a training program. However, virtual beings are easy and quick to deploy with minimal administrative burden. They also cost far less than hiring a real human. Also there’s no need to fear that virtual beings will form an organized union at any time.
6. Virtual beings can help to instill interpersonal skills
AI avatars work because they’re dynamic in how they respond to human choices. Plus, they “remember” those interactions in the future. This feature helps to create a better opportunity to practice soft (yet hard) skills such as empathy.
7. Virtual beings can multitask without trying
The BBC once reported an AI demonstration where the news was broadcast in multiple languages around the world. It was the same newscaster speaking only once in English, yet communicating in the language spoken in each country receiving the live transmission. The newscaster was and the best part was that for each language, his lip synced in tandem to the syllables for that audience. Therefore, it didn’t feel unnatural to the viewer.
This use of virtual beings can work in product and sales demonstration videos for enterprise clients. All that’s necessary is to prepare a script, add text, image, and shape components. The AI platform will quickly generate a video with custom backgrounds along with a virtual begin to simulate facial expressions and movements.
Virtual Beings Examples
There are several implementations of virtual beings, and it’s important to highlight some of the more prominent ones.
Virbe is a virtual beings framework for autonomous shops and the metaverse. It’s clearly focused on enabling brands and businesses to effectively leverage modern tools for transformation into virtual personas.
One of the key areas in which Virbe is gaining increasing influence is the metaverse. But, it’s also having a great impact in shaping customer experience in public spaces.
Using the Virbe framework, you can create an interactive virtual being with your existing tools or the platform’s built-in features.
For web integrations, all that you require is a few lines of clear computer code to add Virbe to your website. This way, you can deal with each customer in a more personalized way, enhancing your conversion rate above and beyond your competitors’ numbers.
In terms of personalized services, your company can take things a notch higher by using your virtual beings in videos and livestreams. Engaging them in social activity is a sure-fire way to introduce them to your community and further cement their (your customers’) sentiment towards your brand.
In cases where you require your virtual being at a physical location such as a store or hotel, you can hire Virbes (what the company calls its virtual beings) to enhance the autonomous customer experience.
Virbe’s virtual beings aren’t just customer service inclined, though. They’re equally effective in other aspects of the typical business enterprise. This includes, sales, HR, education and customer support. We’ll talk about sales a bit.
One of the key skills of sales is to create engaging presentations. Not many sales people look forward to making sales presentations. It’s not their fault, to be fair. It usually requires a lot to get things right during presentations and it’s really easy to bungle things in the process.
While sales presentations are scary, what’s worse is to engage the audience at scale. Virbe Hub has a Presentation Mode solution to help with this. But, what other level of being awesome does this tool hold?
Firstly, you don’t plan to spend too many hours trying to make your presentation more engaging. You also don’t want to toil endlessly in the name of tweaking it to serve your prospects right. Virtual beings in Presentation Mode can help you do both of these. You’ll keep your audience engaged all the time and guide them through to the completion of the sales process.
Of course, you won’t need to bother about delivering the presentation yourself. Besides, you can just stick with knowing and speaking English while the virtual beings effortlessly communicate with your multilingual audiences with no more than one click.
Every participant in the presentation will receive a unique link to further personalize the presentation.
The question then arises as to who can use the platform. Virbe aims to be useful for creators, agencies, and enterprises alike.
A VTuber is a virtual being who streams their daily experiences on popular video platforms. These human beings use a number of consumer-ready motion capture technologies and software for creating characters. These creators exist primarily in the anime aesthetic and stream via YouTube or Twitch.
The VTubing craze began in Japan in the mid-2010s and had blossomed into an international fad by the early 2020s. Besides real-time motion capture technology helping to manipulate a virtual avatar, VTubers can stream and post videos across multiple platforms. These include common platforms such as YouTube and Twitch, alongside other less popular ones like Bilibili and Niconico. The fan base consists of people who experience a wow factor over the characters they’ve created.
The first VTuber iterations emerged sometime around February 2010. Nitroplus, a visual novel maker, began uploading content to their YouTube channel where their mascot, Super Sonico, shares information on upcoming releases. The phenomenon achieved critical acclaim in late 2016 after Kizuna AI debuted on YouTube.
The name VTuber actually comes from Kizuna AI, who shortened the phrase “virtual YouTuber” to describe herself. She knows how to create the intimate experience that appeals to her fans by responding to their comments and questions. The success helped her grow her fan base to two million subscribers within ten months.
Kizuna AI put a silver lining on the VTuber trend as more people in Japan jumped on the train. It rode on the back of anime and manga appeal to expand internationally. As the Twitch viewership grew during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, VTubing became even more popular outside Japan. This influenced the creation of a VTuber tag on Twitch and recognition in the YouTube 2020 Culture and Trends Report, which cited its growth to 1.5 billion views per month by October 2020.
VTubers leverage the ability to tap into the power of storytelling, creating vibrant characters, fan interaction, para-social relationships, and pseudonymity. These characters end up being more interesting than their human streamer characters.
As of May 2022, there were at least 16,000 VTubers from only 1,000 in March 2018. Their collective fan base number millions across social media platforms. Ai Angelica, Code Miko, Gawr Gura, Inugami Korone, Ironmouse, Kiryu Coco, and Nyanners are some of the signature names on the VTube horizon.
A similar concept to VTubing is NFTs in Web3 applications. NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens) have also helped forge multiplying fanbases, community interaction, a sense of belonging, making them comparable to VTube in capturing mindshare. Some VTubers are now experimenting with the technology, and Kizuna AI is the primary example after its hiatus in early 2022 to study NFTs.
VTuber NFTs have an obvious use case in creating token-gated content and Discords besides digital collectibles. However, two other possible uses include rights management and avatar markets.
Third-party entities can create rigged character models and distribute them as NFTs. It’s a significant upgrade to how the market currently works and its commissioning system since creators can better track the use of models while receiving secondary sales.
Another option to help businesses to create rich videos with AI avatars and voices is the web-based Synthesia platform.
One of the strengths of Synthesia is its simplicity. It offers an intuitive user experience that requires you to have zero knowledge of video creation.
Using Synthesia can be broken down into four short steps:
- Choose a template and avatar.
- Type in some text.
- Include visual elements.
- Generate your video.
This is great for video campaigns, which you can do in more than 60 languages. In one use case, you can communicate employee training, customer onboarding, and knowledge sharing to a diverse and distributed audience.
Synthesia supports the fast creation of training videos, how-to videos, and product marketing videos, It also integrates well with many apps you probably use already. The growing 30+ app list includes BigCommerce, Kickstarter, Lectora, Medium, Monday, Notion, PowerPoint, Shopify, Squarespace, Unsplash, Userpilot, Vimeo, WordPress, and YouTube.
Synthesia also lets users create their own custom avatars.
The metaverse has become so important in terms of its promises that social media giant Facebook, has bet on it and rebranded itself as Meta. The consensus among experts is that the road to the metaverse is still a long way off.
The goal of the metaverse is to innovate social interaction on the internet. Decades ago, It would have been stuff for science fiction. Today however, it appears to be the reality unfolding before our eyes.
At its core, the metaverse is a massive network of interconnected virtual spaces. It implies that we can move from one virtual world to another using augmented reality or virtual reality.
The metaverse will happen when technologies such as virtual reality and augmented reality superimpose a computer-generated image on a user’s visual perception of the real world. Virtual reality or VR itself is a computer-generated simulation of a 3D image or environment.
The metaverse will immerse users in an alternate world, and companies including Meta are at the forefront of building the devices that will make our metaverse journeys possible. One typical device is the Oculus Quest.
Launching into the metaverse through a virtual reality headset is similar to sitting in a room with another person who can see you, mimic everything you do, and vice versa.
As innovative as they sound, immersive worlds and the creation of online avatars aren’t exactly new. Online games such as Roblox, Pokémon Go, Minecraft, and Grand Theft Auto Online have effectively deployed virtual universes. Meta is looking to take things beyond the entertainment scene, though. The company wants to create virtual workspaces for homes and public spaces, besides experiences that traverse generations.
Virtual metaverse-powered worlds could open up new revenue streams for businesses. The likelihood of this is due to the fact that people everywhere are overwhelmingly embracing an increasingly digital life. The payments and fintech industry is a solid introduction to a world of seamless digital interconnectedness. Walmart recently announced its virtual world with currency and the ability for customers to buy and sell NFTs.
The metaverse – when it arrives – definitely looks like it’ll come in various flavors. Getting the metaverse reality off the ground requires plenty of investment in high-speed broadband internet and reliable virtual reality hardware.
Virtual interactions promise enticing financial outcomes for big businesses.
Virtual Beings: How They Impact Our World
As our shared social experience continues to grow, it’s only fitting to say the population of virtual beings will grow exponentially. This is because it’s the nature of mankind to find ways to use valuable inventions and innovation. In other words, the more mainstream virtual beings become, the more applications they’ll find in life and business.
The current landscape has seen several startup and enterprise businesses deploying and using custom software products which may be designed, built, and maintained by a third-party.
The AI market is expected to achieve a market cap of just over $300 billion. Only five years ago, it was $15.7 billion.
Demand for AI personal assistants is an important factor for the exponential growth. The voice and speech recognition market achieved $9.12 billion in 2017, according to Grand View Research. At an expected compound annual growth rate of 17.2 percent, the forecast looks great until at least 2025.
Notice that emerging smartphone and computer products now ship with built-in AI assistants by default. That’s how commonplace it’s to find products and services merging with AI personal assistant software.
The emergence of Web3 has much potential to accelerate the virtual beings phenomenon. It could happen through new creator revenue models, internet-first organizational structures, and crypto-powered digital ownership.
There’s truly one reason alone why investors are pouring money into the virtual beings “industry.” That’s because of the endless inherent opportunities. Creative fictional character development, conversational AI, generative adversarial networks, and photo-realistic graphics are just some of the ways we’re using virtual beings already. The general hunch is that characters with humanoid personalities will soon become part of our daily interaction.
The term “virtual beings” still struggles for definition, however. The reason is that it’s currently used to refer to whatever overlapping activities we find across three separate fields including:
- Humanoid Character Creation.
- Virtual Companions.
- Virtual Influencers.
There’s considerable overlap with these three. Humanoid virtual influencers exist, for example. Yet, they represent separate challenges, business opportunities, and ethical concerns.
Let’s now review areas where humans are currently applying virtual beings.
Virtual companions refer to conversational artificial intelligence that builds personal relationships with people for either friendship or utility. A virtual companion has the following attributes:
- They have personality.
- They assess personality.
- They can recall prior conversations.
- They apply the elements above to engage in human conversations.
They aren’t humans, but virtual companions clearly function as if they were beings in their own right. There are 4 formats that they can exist in:
- Physical presence – robots are the perfect example.
- Interactive voice.
- Interactive visual media – social media, gaming, and AR/VR.
- Text-based messaging.
Virtual Beings vs. AI Personal Assistants
You may be wondering how different a virtual being is from a virtual assistant, considering that people tend to use these and other terms like them like synonyms.
A virtual assistant is anyone who offers some kind of assistive service from a remote location. An AI personal assistant uses artificial intelligence to positively impact business workflows. It essentially streamlines and automates basic customer service or sales interactions, thus making it possible to pair products or services with an AI personal assistant software.
On the other hand, a virtual being is a character that represents a human being in a digital setting. So, you can have one playing the role of customer service representative and interacting with your customers or handling sales pitches.
According to the Virtual Beings Summit, virtual beings are digital characters with the ability to grow. This definition is aimed at defining them as “living” beings with the capacity for development.
However, virtual beings are designed to forge two-way relationships with other characters and people. This is where its business potential becomes obvious. As virtual reality becomes more mainstream, businesses like yours must consider the possible benefits that creating a virtual being using a platform such as Virbe bring.
If you’re seeking an early advantage above your competitors, adopting virtual beings in your business could work the magic.