”Let you hear what you want to hear, let you see what you want to see. joi can fulfill all your fantasies.”
In the sci-fi film Blade Runner 2049, released in 2017, the protagonist K stands alone on an overpass with the image of a giant blue-haired Joi in front of him. In the movie, K and Joi are not really human, K is a replicant, with the same flesh and blood as humans, but also implanted with human memories; while Joi, just a virtual image living in the projection, can never touch their loved ones, and even outside the movie, the audience is still arguing over whether Joi has an autonomous consciousness. If a replicant like K is still too far away from us, what about Joi? Can we also have our own Joi, like in the movie?
When digital people come to life, virtual light and shadow shine into reality
In 1982, based on the character Akemi Hayashi from the Japanese animation “Super Time Fortress”, the packaging gave birth to the world’s first virtual singer, whose album also managed to break into the famous music charts at the time. Entering the 21st century, Hatsune Miku, Lotte and other secondary virtual singers gradually came into people’s view and started a new cultural trend among young people. With the innovation of technology, the exploration of digital human no longer stopped at the secondary image, but developed towards the hyper-realistic human image, and MetaHuman was born.
On May 20, 2021, a hyper-realistic digital human named AYAYI announced his arrival on a lifestyle platform by saying hello to the real world with a light and shadow ID photo. The photo quickly spread to all major online platforms, and AAYAYI’s debut post was read by nearly 3 million people, rising nearly 40,000 fans overnight. Some netizens marveled at AAYAYI’s stunning appearance, some imitated her makeup, and some even began to question her real identity because they were so surprised. After gaining high internet popularity, AAYAYI’s business map was also spread – she joined Ali and became the digital mastermind of Tmall Super Brand Day; as a digital curator, she planned exhibitions with many artists and planned to open a tide brand physical store; and signed many brand endorsements. It can be said that the arrival of AYAYI has brought more imagination to the domestic business market.
While abroad, more hyper-realistic digital people are active on various online platforms. lilMiquela has over 3 million followers on the social platform Instagram, and her character is set as a 20-year-old Brazilian and Spanish mixed-race girl living in Los Angeles, U.S. She is a model and singer by profession. Like AAYAYI, LilMiquela is a fashion favorite, you can see all kinds of big international brands on her, and she has been on the cover of the paper. Compared to AAYAYI, LilMiquela has been on social media longer as a digital person and has created a richer and fuller persona. Whether it is a real person or not even caused a considerable storm on the internet until a hacker hacked into LilMiquela’s social accounts and the debate over LilMiquela’s real identity was settled.
In addition to AYAYI and LilMiquela, digital people such as virtual supermodel ShuduGram and Japanese virtual idol imma, who are active on social media, are quietly rewriting the rules of business in the real world with their virtual bodies.
Behind the continuous emergence of hyper-realistic digital people is the increasingly powerful technological productivity.
In early 2021, EpicGames, a game production company, announced a digital human creation tool called MetaHumanCreator. According to the official page, MetaHumanCreator includes a large number of digital data of real people’s expressions, skin textures, features, etc. Even a technical novice can create a super-realistic digital human image in a short time with the help of this tool.
On August 13, 2021, with the help of Omniverse, a graphics and simulation tool developed by his own company, Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang rendered a virtual scene that could be faked in real time for 14 seconds, successfully fooling audiences around the world. No one noticed that the 108-minute speech was interspersed with 14 seconds of virtual images. In this 14 seconds, the speech of the old Huang is fake, the scene of the kitchen, furniture, toys and all is fake. It is foreseeable that with the continuous development of technology, digital people can land more and more scenes, and the impact on human life will be more and more profound.
With the domestic large Internet game companies successively layout meta-universe and digital human field, the earliest born in the game scene of digital human technology in the game industry and what new progress?
Tencent is considered one of the companies that laid out the digital human field earlier in China. As early as 2018, Tencent’s NExTStudios announced a high-fidelity virtual digital human named Siren. With real-time rendering technology provided by EpicGames and motion capture technology provided by CubicMotion, the motion capture equipment can mimic the expressions and movements of anyone, and any real person can also use this to become the next digital person.In April 2021, Tencent, together with Xinhua News Agency, released the world’s first digital astronaut Xiao Zhan. NExTStudios’ real-time, high-fidelity digital human technology, which has been in place for several years, is now in focus.
With the official launch of Xiaodian, the concept of “super digital scene” depicted by Tencent also surfaced. According to Tencent’s vice president, this “super digital scene” is a large-scale migration of human culture, technology and imagination accumulated over millions of years to the virtual world. ……’s continuous technological revolution and innovation of thinking will definitely allow games to better connect virtual and reality.
Another big company, NetEase, set up the Fuxi AI Lab in 2017 to focus on the research and application of game and pan-entertainment AI, with research directions including virtual human, reinforcement learning, image action, natural language and cloud computing platform.
At present, Netflix Fuxi has already made a lot of attempts to combine digital people and games. For example, in November 2021, NetEase landed a group of virtual digital people centrally in Hangzhou China Silk City based on the character images in the ancient online game “Against the Wind” to create a more interactive and immersive experience scene for visitors through virtual narrators, virtual poets, virtual dancers and other forms.
In 2021, NetEase also completed a strategic investment in Sublime Culture. The latter is a cultural product company focusing on the ecology of virtual people, which has created a number of hyper-realistic digital people such as Ling, the national style Yuanqi girl Nan Mengxia, and virtual male model ASK.
In September 2021, Huawei created Huawei’s first virtual digital human cloud sheng based on its digital content production line, with technologies such as automatic modeling, voice-driven and rendering acceleration, and had it onboard Huawei Cloud as a new employee. Although Huawei did not announce too many details about the application scenario of Yunsheng, but backed by cloud technology and Huawei’s strength in hardware, its imagination space is very considerable.
In general, although the Internet, technology companies continue to move, but whether it is limited by technology or landing scenarios, digital people in the game industry is still in its infancy, only as a concept in the popularization and promotion.
Digital content is driven by digital people, but landing scenarios need to be continuously explored
As you may have discovered, there is actually not such an urgent need for game companies to create a hyper-realistic digital person yet. You may even think that it is a problem for gamers who are used to cartoon or binary images to accept hyper-realistic digital people. If you have to find application scenarios for hyper-realistic digital people, perhaps you should do marketing and branding like other virtual idols that are popular on the Internet.
But if you pay attention to the needs of the full-blown Generation Z (the generation born between 1995 and 2010, seamlessly connected to the online information age since birth) and the significance of avatars for the new generation of users, you might put digital people back in a pretty important position again.
Some content practitioners believe that the big fire of virtual idols and trendy hand-me-down toys actually represent the maturity of Generation Z’s consumer power, while the big concept of digital people is clearly a broader consumer windfall. Since video and live streaming need to be diversified, virtual idols and digital people as new forms are bound to be the traffic heights that content producers are trying to capture, or you’ll have a hard time catching the next generation of users. What’s more, objectively speaking, the momentum of cutting-edge technology has been unstoppable.
In the view of a hardware developer, the current trend of digital wave is very obvious, and digital content and must need digital people, since it is a digital person, whether it is a virtual idol, virtual customer service, or animation content, virtual social, will need digital person technology. As a practitioner, it is necessary to seize the ultimate demand and basic value, and drive it in a light way.
A senior practitioner also said that many people’s attention was attracted by the hyper-realistic digital people, mistakenly thinking that this is a sudden appearance in 2021, but in fact the relevant technology has been accumulating, has been moving up. In terms of a larger concept, digital people have actually been slowly developing, such as the earlier secondary virtual image, as the technology slowly matured, the industry only in 2021 to see such a hyper-realistic virtual digital people. However, at present, subject to technology and cost, even if the digital person in the appearance of the subtlety, it is difficult to move like a real person.
In the case of Huang Renxun’s virtual double, in order to create this virtual image of just 14 seconds in length, NVIDIA used hundreds of digital cameras to take thousands of photos of Huang Renxun from multiple angles, and hired a professional actor to imitate Huang Renxun’s speech movements, for up to eight hours of motion capture. According to Nvidia, they used a total of 34 3D designers and 15 software engineers for the virtual launch images.
Therefore, for most Internet manufacturers, whether to enter the field of digital people, should be fully considered their own positioning and user needs before making a decision. There is no urgent need, there is no suitable application scenario, what content can be carried …… these factors need to be carefully thought.
From virtual idols to cyberpunks, why are we so enthusiastic about digital people
Since the industrial age, humans have become increasingly obsessed with the power of technology.
The steam beast that roared through Europe and the black smoke that pervaded England made humans realize for the first time that they had mastered the great power to transform heaven and earth; the cosmic exploration fever that began at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century made humans fascinated by cosmic exploration, which also led to the emergence of a large number of works that imagined interstellar roaming and gave birth to the golden age of science fiction; the booming computer technology and the information superhighway, which early on The discovery of atomic energy has made human beings expand more than ever, and some people even began to doubt whether we have been able to touch the power of creation.
Technology has changed our lives countless times, extending our imagination of the future. But in the past two or three decades, mankind has seen few emerging scientific concepts, so much so that many people have jokingly claimed that the basic science of mankind has been locked up by the homo sapiens sent by the triton. It is easy to explain why we are so excited to see a magical hyper-realistic digital person, and then immersed in the shock of technology – it is an infinitely close to the virtual image of a real person, which is incomparable to any other form of digital representation. If such a “person” were to appear on the Internet one day, no one would be able to contain their curiosity to find out.
In a sense, the creation of a digital person may be a realization of the deep-seated human desire to create a virtual image that resembles a real person, and the hope that this “person” will have an ideal image, a perfect persona, in order to hold our subtle emotions. We even expect this “person” to be around us, to be able to move freely, and even to have the “intelligence” to really communicate with people.
What’s even more intriguing is what impact such a “person” might have on the reality of human life when it enters our real life. Imagine that you are now wearing a smart watch, you only need to gently press, the watch will appear out of thin air and you can interact with the image, although not in the physical level to achieve touch, but from the visual, you have no way to distinguish the image in the end is a hologram or a real person.
This kind of image sounds too far away, just like the science fiction movie “Blade Runner 2049” and “Cyberpunk 2077”, as if it should only appear in the science fiction theme of the film and game. But it is also because of its dream-like fantasy, human beings are dreaming of it and can’t wait to be in the world surrounded by digital people.
Netease Fuxi AI virtual human chief expert Ding Yu had made a judgment about the future of digital human in a keynote speech called “the past life and future of digital human”: when the technology about digital human is infinitely powerful, at that time, the future of digital human must be infinite and full service to human beings.
He also made a further vision of the future of digital human: when the EEG technology is further developed, the communication between biological human and digital human may no longer be carried out in the way of vision and hearing, but through EEG signals. Our sense of touch, perception, emotion, personality, hobbies, habits, memories, all these invisible and inaudible, but real biological signals can be transmitted. In the further future, the digital human may also help humans cross the boundary of life, allowing people who have lost their physical lives to continue living in the digital world.
What exactly is the significance of the digital human for human beings? Is it the ultimate pursuit of virtual technology, or is it just chasing a fantasy bubble. The answer may not be important, after all, Madame Curie said: “The invisible world of mankind is not a phantom of imagination, but an actual existence illuminated by the light of science. What is honored is the power of science.”