The steady rise of AI avatars taking care of business

  • What is an avatar?
  • An avatar for business… seriously?
  • Some examples of avatars used in business
  • In the future, avatars may even run many of our companies

As technological developments accelerate at breakneck speed, businesses need to continuously adopt new technologies in order to keep up with the pace and stay ahead of their competitors. One way to do this is by incorporating AI avatars to help enhance customer engagement and improve conversion rates. In fact, tech giants like Microsoft, Facebook, Nvidia, and Samsung are among a rapidly growing number of companies that have already started creating and deploying AI-powered digital humans to streamline and enhance their business operations.

What is an avatar?

People have long taken on alternative identities, but in the last few years, technology has expanded the possibilities. Millions of people have one or multiple avatars to represent themselves on all kinds of online platforms and in various virtual worlds. While – up until recently – avatars were mainly used for online profiles and in virtual gaming environments, they are becoming more and more popular in business as well. Today’s digital avatars or AI-powered human-like bots are complex ‘beings’ that enhance human interaction by communicating with people. AI avatars learn in various ways – not only through the algorithms created by their developers, but also through their experience with users. AI-powered avatars are based on natural language understanding and processing, computer vision, speech AI, simulation technologies, and recommendation engines. This enables them to learn from experience similar to how a human learns, adapts, and behaves. Today’s advanced avatars can maintain eye-contact and appropriately respond to our own facial expressions. This is the result of algorithms trawling through thousands of hours of video, which footage is used to train the avatars to mimic human facial expressions as closely as possible.

AI avatars can replace salespeople and customer service staff at a fraction of the cost and fill the void in interactive assistance that most shoppers want.

An avatar for business… seriously?

You probably wonder what on earth is the value of avatars in business. Well, for one, workforces will increasingly adopt hybrid models where some employees will be physically present at work, while others work remotely. In order to improve how we (virtually) interact with each other at work, avatars will help us humanise the virtual work experience. Also, for companies aiming to define their target market, avatars have already proven their worth. In fact, one of the reasons why AI avatars are seeing rapid adoption is because clients prefer to see a ‘human face’ when interacting with a company, and AI avatars can provide online interactions and transactions with a ‘human touch’. Among other things, AI Avatars with realistic conversation intelligence can mean the difference between an unhappy customer and a successful sale. Their algorithms search for context and nuanced information in client queries in order to provide specific, personalised answers. AI avatars can take loads of simple, repetitive tasks off your hands and really take care of (your) business. In fact, they are already widely used in e-commerce and marketing. NEON AI, for instance, Samsung’s next-generation personal assistant, is a photorealistic avatar that helps answer questions and entertain customers. In the future, NEON could be deployed as a hotel concierge, sales or service representative, healthcare provider or even a financial advisor. According to an Accenture survey of online shoppers, 62 per cent don’t finalise their purchases because there was no real-time customer service or support. AI avatars can replace salespeople and customer service staff at a fraction of the cost and fill the void in interactive assistance that most shoppers want.

Some examples of avatars used in business

Here are some interesting examples of avatars that are already making a significant contribution to various aspects of business.

Trainable digital avatars

TAG MultiMedia, a Software As A Service (SaaS) agency operating in the media and advertising space, recently launched its conversational AI avatars (CAI avatars). CAI avatars are trainable, digital entities that live on your website and assist visitors with friendly, human-like engagement, which helps to improve conversion rates and enhances website performance. The company’s CAI avatars are powered by AI, machine learning, and natural language processing, which enables them to answer questions and offer real-time information about products and services. Their software also enables them to gather, sort, analyse, alter, and automate information. TAG president Michelle Armstrong explains: “Early adopters of this technology will reap the biggest rewards. The more the avatar is engaged, the better it performs. Using it now on a website means it will be polished and ready to go so small businesses can have the first sales personas in the metaverse.”

“Very soon, any person will be able to have a virtual twin for professional use that can deliver content on their behalf, speak in any language and scale their productivity in ways previously unimaginable.”

Self-service platform enables businesses to create full-fledged avatars

US-Israeli startup Hour One, an AI company specialising in the development of virtual humans, has created the self-service digital presenter creation platform Reals, to enable people to be converted into virtual characters with lifelike expressiveness in any language. All you have to do is film yourself talking and gesturing and a short while later, your digital avatar is generated. This virtual twin can then be deployed in a variety of roles, including a salesperson, virtual receptionist, language teacher, or HR representative. It can handle sales requests, answer client queries, or guide people through training sessions or presentations – all by typing text that is then spoken by the avatar – with matching voice and graphics. According to Hour One founder and CEO Oren Aharon, this is the future of work. “The ability to easily turn any person into a virtual character that can then be activated using just text will completely transform the way businesses and their customers engage each other.” Aharon continues: “Very soon, any person will be able to have a virtual twin for professional use that can deliver content on their behalf, speak in any language and scale their productivity in ways previously unimaginable.” Hour One built its own neural networks, makes use of generative adversarial networks (GANs), and uses blockchain technology to verify the identity of digital characters and flag deep fakes.

AI avatar invites customers in store over for product recommendations

Swiss company Animatico has created a voice-enabled, human-like interface avatar platform to help businesses increase customer engagement and improve turnover. Animatico’s AI avatars can automatically recognise visitors and customers and invite them over to product recommendations and promotions or to provide information such as route descriptions. Deployed in retail, the avatars can route customers through stores, increasing client engagement and minimising customer churn. Gamification features can be incorporated, so that the avatar can get the visitor to play games related to specific products. Retailers, brands, and other businesses can customise the interactive avatars for a variety of purposes. Animatico’s avatars are already employed by businesses across a range of industries with various applications, such as helping shoppers decide which wine to pair with a certain meal. The Animatico avatar toolkit also provides analytics to enable businesses to better understand their target audience, provide business insights, and measure the success of the avatar deployment.

This virtual concierge will help people navigate a building

Sarah, a new digital building assistant and concierge that was created by Quantum Capture and IBM Watson IoT, knows all there is to know about a building, its facilities, the number and type of areas and rooms within it, and its occupants. This AI avatar helps people navigate a space and check the availability of meeting rooms, among other things, freeing up human staff members from those time consuming, lower-value tasks and improving operational efficiency. Sarah also offers a voice interface, makes general conversation about the facilities in a building, and can even tell a joke or two. She can also be deployed to assist in resolving issues like malfunctioning devices or damages. The AI avatar is powered by Quantum Capture’s unique virtual human technology, which offers the ability of dynamic body gestures and two-way conversations, enabling people to interact with a human-like assistant. The avatar can also be customised to a company’s specific requirements and take on a different age, gender, or ethnicity.

In the future, avatars may even run many of our companies

According to the ‘SME 2050’ futurology report commissioned by Virgin Money, powerful new developments in artificial intelligence (AI) in the next couple of decades will lead to a scenario in which avatars may eventually run many of our companies. AI-driven virtual clones will manage the workload, while business owners deal with human-centric tasks, take care of other important work, enjoy some time off, or have a good night’s rest. These avatars will be programmed on the basis of a business leader’s persona and can be authorised to take care of business and make decisions in the human leader’s absence. UK thought leader and futurist Dave Coplin, who has worked with or for some of the world’s largest technology companies in the world, most recently as Microsoft UK’s ‘chief envisioning officer’, is the author of the report. 

According to Coplin, global businesses of the future will be staffed by virtual specialists who take care of business at any time, from any location, in any time zone, and in any language. In fact, he is taking his predictions quite a number of steps further. According to the futurist, by that time human business owners will even have advanced cybernetic implants that enable immediate access to any and all information they might need, and allow them to communicate in any possible language through real-time translation technology. They will also have chip implants that can be used for physical access to buildings or online access to, for instance, bank accounts. They will have cybernetic eyes as well, which will enable them to record video or take photos. And to top it all off, future business owners will even have a brain-computer interface (BCI) to facilitate the exchange of information between their brains and computers.

Some final thoughts

As we transition into an increasingly digital world, more and more businesses across many industries are recognising the value of implementing AI-powered digital humans. They are currently mainly used to improve customer service while simultaneously maintaining the human element of business and offering customers a personalised experience. In the future, however, these digital humans may take over many other tasks and be deployed as sales or service representatives, building concierges, healthcare providers, virtual receptionists, language teachers, or fulfil advisory roles. Quite a bit further into the future, they could even take care of running the business while we take a well-deserved break.

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