Companies hiring virtual people is becoming increasingly more mainstream in China thanks to the work of tech business Bilibili.
It was just a few short weeks ago when we were exploring the first fully automated and robot-controlled fast-food restaurant in America. When technology starts to gain momentum, it isn’t long before many standards we have become accustomed to change and are replaced with new technology for us to adapt to. Companies in China have moved to hire Virtual People to produce alternative content, and they can even handle customer service tasks for a company’s customers.
The attraction for corporations to go in this direction is its positive impact on the company’s bottom line. A virtual employee can cost between $2,800 and $14,300 per year, depending on the detail of the programming that the virtual person needs to have to effectively complete the job function they will be tasked with. That is an inexpensive alternative to hiring a human to do that same job, and they don’t complain or have excuses why they would have to miss work, which ultimately amounts to an extra expense for a company to be saddled with for hiring human employees to do the same job.
So what exactly is a virtual person? Virtual people have only been on the fringes of the internet up until this point and have not made it to the mainstream in our country just yet. According to CNBC, “Virtual people are a combination of animation, sound tech, and machine learning that create digitized human beings who can sing and even interact on a livestream.”
The most recognizable virtual person to us in America would be virtual singer Luo Tianyi, who was featured in the Winter Olympics opening ceremony that took place in Beijing last year. Luo was launched in 2012 and currently has amassed 3 million fans through appearances at special events like the Olympics and other corporate junkets. The Chinese company Bilibili was one of the first to take virtual humans to the mainstream in China.
China has had a problem with its top celebrates receiving a lot of negative press and being embroiled in tax evasion or personal scandals, so the need arose for an alternative spokesman that companies could use to generate content and a buzz around their advertising. CNBC also reported, “At least 36% of consumers had watched a virtual influencer or digital celebrity perform in the last year, according to a survey published by Kantar this fall. Twenty-one percent had watched a virtual person host an event or broadcast the news, the report said.” Interestingly, 45% of Chinese advertisers, when polled by Kantar, have said that they are contemplating sponsoring a virtual influencers performance or inviting a virtual person to join a brand event they would host.
Virtual anchors are also hosted by Bilibili, and they are direct avatars of people that use special technology to reach the audience. The number of these anchors is astonishing, since 2019, 230,000 virtual anchors have broadcast on Bilibili’s platform. How much of this was in correlation with us being locked in our houses during the pandemic but in 2022, virtual anchors’ broadcast time skyrocketed by 200%.
The other work function that these virtual people are starting to take over is customer service. Virtual people, or chatbots, are programmed to function like an FAQ. Instead of the customer having to search out the answer and read through a lot of unnecessary information for their problem, these chatbots can interact with the customer and get them the information they desire in a much timelier manner.
They are programmed to be capable of delivering process directions or helping explain a company’s policy on specific high-volume topics. This can decrease customer interaction volumes for their customer service departments, and companies can staff fewer humans because they will need to handle more complex and one-off escalated scenarios.
Virtual people are already taking off in China, and we will see over the next few years if it also grabs a foothold in the United States. One thing is certain, technology that helps businesses be more profitable always becomes the standard regardless of the impact on the human’s feelings around whether this is morally acceptable or the impact on humans being out of work because of virtual people taking those jobs and doing them better and in a cost-effective way.