Not everyone knows the origin of digital humans as we know them today – as conversational AI avatars and agents. 

Back in 2017, we collaborated with industry leaders to bring the first production-ready digital human into the world. Nadia, voiced by Cate Blanchett, was an awesome virtual assistant idea for the Australian National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA).

You could even trace the origins of digital humans further back to 2015, when our very own Piers Smith sketched a prototype onto a napkin. The prototype itself was built four months later.

As every superhero story ultimately reveals, powerful things grow out of humble beginnings. And digital humans have been on a swift trajectory since then – even featuring in the 2021 Gartner Emerging Technology Hype Cycle.

By 2030, Emergen Research estimates that the digital human market will be worth $527.58 billion, growing 46.4% (CAGR) in the years leading up to that.

Not bad for an idea that once fit onto the side of a napkin!

But 2030 is a long way away. We know how much can change in just 12 months, let alone eight! The burning question for anyone interested in this field of conversational AI technology is: what does 2022 hold for digital human innovation?

Here are our predictions – some are around technology, others on the business trends and wider world in which we live.

1. More breakthrough digital human use cases than ever before

We’re proud to have helped organizations develop digital humans for a wide range of use cases. From banking and finance to education, healthcare and various retail applications, digital humans are being used in unique ways across many different sectors and brands.

Each year, we see amazing people working for leading brands demanding more from digital humans in their specific niches. Digital humans are also quickly growing in awareness and popularity. So by the close of 2022, it’s logical to predict that there’ll be more new use cases than ever before, as more brands get hands on with the tech. Some of these use cases we can’t even imagine yet, which is the really exciting part!

For instance, one area where we’ve seen especially encouraging progress in recent years is digital humans as AI companions

Even before COVID-19, there were talks about a ‘loneliness epidemic’ sweeping many countries. CDC figures from 2019 reveal that more than a third of American adults suffer from loneliness. For those aged 65 and over, the figure climbs to nearly half.

Worldwide lockdowns and social distancing measures brought these issues into stark focus, as many people were prevented from interacting with loved ones and colleagues. And, with many countries having aging populations, the mental, physical and financial problems associated with loneliness are only likely to worsen.

It’s one example of the growing number of countless use cases that can benefit from both the scale of digital interactions and the warmth of a more human interface. Digital humans cannot fix these big problems, but they can help when placed into the right hands.

In fact, they become an elegant solution, offering engaging, empathetic, and open interactions to people who are lonely – at any time of the day, for as long as they’re needed. Research is already showing some of the benefits of AI companions for people with dementia, for example.

With 2022 a potential turning point for new, innovative applications for digital humans, We can’t wait to see what the next 12 months will bring!

Digital human market value 2022–2030 | UneeQ Blog

2. Brands will unleash the power of personality

Personality really matters. Brands spend big money trying to build an emotional connection with consumers, and it’s difficult to do that if people see you as nothing more than a bland, faceless corporation.

A lot of effort goes into using personality, charisma and charm at the top of the marketing funnel, to great success. Television advertising has traditionally done this exceptionally well. However, most of the personality and distinctiveness that brands exhibit early in the customer journey tend to fade away further into the marketing journey.

Most effective affective advertising and emotional resonance tactics

After all, it’s not like Colonel Sanders or Jake from State Farm can be there in-person every step of the way, handing you your fried chicken or answering questions about your car insurance policy on the phone. We mean they could, but they’re not doing so yet. 

However, it’s possible to reproduce brand ambassadors as digital humans so that people can interact with the unique personalities that they fell in love with, and they can do so at multiple touchpoints throughout the marketing journey. 

What impact does this have? Here’s an example. 

In April 2021, we launched Digital Einstein in partnership with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Greenlight Rights. We wanted more people to learn about the life and achievements of the Nobel Prize-winning physicist – and who better to tell them than the man himself?

Einstein had a big personality in real life, and we wanted Digital Einstein to reflect that. The results?

At the top of the marketing funnel, total website traffic jumped 350% and there was a 533% increase in page views once Digital Einstein went live, with people spending an average of 85% more time on the site than before.

Further down the funnel, we saw a 112% rise in inbound contacts and a 137% bump in free trial sign-ups, as well as a 270% and 140% increase in booked meetings and marketing qualified leads, respectively. 

Einstein is obviously a unique personality. But then every brand has one, from mascots to ambassadors, founders and magnetic CEOs. Embodying that personality with brand values, making it interactive, making a fun experience out of it – that’s a full-funnel marketing superpower, and one we’re excited to see brands benefit from in 2022.

3. More personalization will bring deeper engagement

Establishing a strong brand personality is only half of the equation when it comes to engagement. Organizations are also increasingly expected to understand their customer’s personality, including their hobbies, preferences, and lifestyle choices. 

The truth is, consumers now expect personalization even before they’ve become a loyal customer. Those first interactions between a company and a potential customer are often moments of truth that can make or break a person’s perception of a brand, possibly forever. 

And with every subsequent interaction, expectations of personalization only increase: 

  • 91% are more likely to shop with brands who remember them
  • 72% of people will only engage with personalized marketing 
  • 42% of consumers are actively irritated by a lack of personalization.

Those are the risks, but what about the rewards? 

Well, one survey revealed that a staggering 99% of marketers say that personalization helps boost customer relationships, while 97% have seen a direct lift in business results after personalization campaigns.

Digital humans can support brands in their journey to provide better personalization, by: 

  1. Using your customer’s name (and other identifiers)
  2. Embodying your brand values, which your customers share 
  3. Interacting seamlessly across multiple touchpoints
  4. Speaking to your customer’s interests
  5. Predicting future purchasing behavior
  6. Be available whenever they are needed

All of these points, we’ve filled out in this article (including a handy infographic on marketing personalization).

Combine these ingredients and you’ve already got a great recipe for better personalization. We’re excited to see more brands excel at personalization as part of their marketing menus for 2022.

4. The convergence of AI tech will make for better customer experiences

We now live in a world of synthetic media. One study estimates that the amount of AI-generated deep fake videos doubles every six months, and has done so since 2018. 

And while digital humans don’t fit squarely into that category – we explain why in this article – they do work well with other types of synthetic media.

Take AI voices, for example. Voice technologies (from Veritone, Microsoft, Google, Amazon and a huge amount of others) have become incredibly sophisticated over the past few years.

Now take into account language models like GPT-3, real-time translation APIs, computer vision and analytics platforms. AI convergence is making the real-time capabilities of digital humans better year after year. 

A platform that plays well with other technologies (hi *waves*) can be a powerful foundation for this convergence. And, ultimately, it’s the customer who wins, with a more powerful, better orchestrated and more seamless interaction.

5. Kiosks will be seriously disrupted (in the best possible way)

Interactive kiosks were some of the first homes for digital humans. If you want a good story, just ask your UneeQ customer success rep about the time we built a seven-foot digital human kiosk to go into Auckland International Airport (and see image above).

What was once a rather humble structure to display static content has become much more sophisticated. The convergence of kiosk screens and smart devices is happening right now in retail environments, making kiosk interactions much more dynamic.

We’re predicting right here and now that the kiosk will not be just an early home for digital humans, but a lifelong and valuable medium, too. Digital humans can link the kiosk and mobile experience in a fun and conversational way. Everything from 5G networks to the sophistication of modern kiosks has made this more feasible in 2022 than ever before.

For a glimpse of this incoming future, we’ll leave you with this little concept we created in partnership with the City of Darwin, Australia.

6. Digital humans will enter the metaverse

Prior to Facebook’s much-publicized name change to Meta last year, few people outside of science fiction circles had even heard of a ‘metaverse’. Today… well, admittedly, a lot of people probably still don’t fully know what they are – but that’s likely to change in 2022.

A metaverse is a digital environment that can provide immersive social experiences, allowing people to meet up, interact and do everyday things without the typical constraints of physical space. 

And ‘everyday things’ includes shopping and other commercial activities, which is why countless brands and companies are already excited about the opportunities. Stores, events, conferences, showrooms, customer service channels – all of these could be made available virtually in the metaverse. 

Who will populate the metaverse though? Real people, sure. But we’ll need autonomous AIs too, much like you have NPCs in video games. Much like video games, those AIs will need personality, function and an ability to interact autonomously with people within the metaverse itself. Digital humans offer the best existing technology to do just that, allowing brands to embody themselves and serve in the metaverse.

They’ll be capable of open-ended conversations and can perform a range of tasks for metaverse users. Could you order a pizza from a Domino’s digital human? It’s entirely possible – and we’ll be asking (and answering) many more questions like this over the coming years. 

True, the metaverse is in its infancy and 2022 won’t be the year that it matures into adulthood. Far from it. Nevertheless, because the metaverse brings such a transformative change, brands are planning for it today. We expect to see those exciting first baby steps as the year progresses.

So those are our predictions. Have we missed anything off the list? Let us know on our social channels. Or, if you’d like to learn more about digital humans, check out our eBook on that very topic below! We’d love to hear your feedback!