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Internet of Things March 2023 Viewpoints

Digital Humans

By Matthew Beecham

Overview

The concept of digital twins for industrial assets is already well established. Interest is now growing in opportunities for creating digital twins of people on the basis of various data sources, including IoT sensors. Some analysts predict that digital humans—computer-generated moving images of a human being—will become the fastest-growing industry in the metaverse.

Description

Emergen Research expects the global digital-human market to reach $527.58 billion by 2030, with a compound annual growth rate of 46.4%. Applications that could benefit from digital humans include health advice, broadcasting, entertainment, retail, finance, and education. Government policy support for the Internet of Things (IoT), private investment, and the enhancement of computing capacities could further boost the digital-human industry.

Digital humans in the form of virtual assistants already exist. The UK National Health Service used virtual assistant Olivia for flu‑vaccine scheduling. The World Health Organization employed a digital-health worker, Florence, to provide guidance about stress management and covid‑19 vaccines. Virtual influencers have proved successful on Instagram and other platforms. Tech giant Alibaba used its virtual influencer, Dong Dong, for the 2022 Olympic Winter Games.

Implications

Virtual influencers are already blurring the lines between what is real and what is unreal. Pushing the boundaries further, what if digital humans act as life advisors, coaches, and companions? Already, AI chatbot Replika (from San Francisco, California–based Luka) offers virtual friendship services with customizable avatars that aim to alleviate loneliness and depression. The app now boasts 10 million registered users. A Chinese rival, Xiaoice, claims it has hundreds of millions of users holding lifelike, empathic conversations with its app.

Some hurdles remain before the digital-humans market can take off. No fully determined business model yet exists. Service-oriented avatars are expensive to produce and cannot establish an emotional link with users. Breakthroughs in AI‑powered algorithms could help reduce production costs and time to market, however.

Although the digital-human segment is still in a nascent stage in the IoT arena, digital-humans' appearance, gestures, and actions are becoming more refined. Experts believe that digital humans will not be limited to cultural and creative categories such as virtual celebrities but will integrate into a variety of industries to boost the economy. For example, plausibly, digital humans, in combination with health wearables, could track, visualize, analyze, and predict individual health. Similar technologies could mirror the health and status of emergency responders, soldiers, and industrial workers—allowing for remote monitoring of workforces. Digital humans could also represent and perhaps boost the productivity of knowledge workers in virtual meetings—allowing people to be in two or more places at once.

Relevant Areas to Monitor

  • Digital Twins and Simulations

    Digital twins, models, and simulations re‑create real-world objects and phenomena in virtual form. Some virtual representations use sensor data to replicate real-world conditions, and other virtual representations simulate or predict events. In general, the fidelity, size, and accuracy of virtual representations are increasing.

  • The Metaverse

    Sci-fi stories popularized the idea of a metaverse, which merges physical and virtual realms into a shared persistent connected space. The development of a metaverse akin to the World Wide Web is far from certain, but even company-controlled metaverses could have a significant impact on how people socialize and have various experiences.

Impact Scale

On a scale of low, medium, or high, the anticipated level of impact for this topic is: Medium.

Impact Timing

On a scale of now, 5, 10, or 15 years, the anticipated impact timing for this topic is: Now to 5 years.

Opportunities in the Following Industry Areas

  • AI/Automation/Software
  • Health/Medicine/Wellness
  • Information/Telecommunications
  • Internet of Things
  • Sensors/Electronics

Relevant to the Following Explorer Technology Areas