In 1992, science fiction writer Neal Stephenson wrote the classic cyberpunk novel Snow Crash. It's a wild ride that takes readers on a mind-bending sci-fi journey, combining high-octane action and computer hacking with a dash of ancient Sumerian mythology.
But what's truly incredible about the book is how many of its predictions about the future of technology have turned out to be true.
Stephenson didn't just anticipate the rise of the internet and virtual reality. He talks about the metaverse (Stephenson himself coined the term), as well as AI-powered assistants and digital humans. It doesn't stop there – Snow Crash describes a world where digital currencies, avatars and bustling online marketplaces are the norm.
Today, many of these tech innovations have become so familiar to us, that it's easy to forget the novel is over 30 years old. Stephenson makes predicting the future look almost like child's play.
So let’s summon our inner Neal Stephenson and make some predictions ourselves. Not on the wider tech world – and certainly not on what the next 30 years will look like. But on five aspirational goals digital humans will reach in 2024.
1. The first digital human will sell $10 million worth of products
Forgive us for getting straight to the numbers. It's not all about cold, hard cash, but it's hard to ignore that digital humans have had a brilliant year when it comes to demonstrating ROI.
Some of our case studies have shown that introducing a digital human can double a company's conversion rates. And a few businesses that we've worked with have seen even better results than that. One even saw 5x improvement in conversion rate compared to standard web experiences.
What we're getting at is that the commercial age of AI is truly upon us. Salesforce predicted that the most recent holiday period would bring $194 million in global online sales driven by AI product recommendations alone.
We’re living in a time when customers can be matched with the right products rather than searching for them. And that's why we're confident we'll see the digital humans sell $10 million worth of products this year.
In fact, considering a single digital human can engage with multitudes of people at once, and can do so 24/7, you might even consider that number to be a little conservative. Especially as the global market for digital humans is already worth more than $2 billion, and is expected to see a compound annual growth rate of at least 35% by 2029.
What's more, we're already seeing computer-generated humans break into the mainstream. Take Lil Miquela, for example. She's a fictional 19-year-old digital influencer who has amassed more than 2.5 million followers on Instagram since being created in 2016.
Lil Miquela is the first digital human to be formally signed to a talent agency and has been 'pictured' with celebrities such as Stranger Things star Millie Bobby Brown and legendary guitarist Nile Rodgers.
Her collaborations with Prada, Calvin Klein and Samsung have also shown how digital humans can be powerful brand advocates and ambassadors. This opportunity is something that our CEO and Founder Danny Tomsett has discussed before on our blog.
"The idea of digital humans may sound weird at first; but when done right and with the right strategy, digital ambassadors can build trust, inspire loyalty and fundamentally transform a brand's business model for the better," he said.
So while $10 million worth of sales is a good place to start, for many businesses, you simply can't put a price on the long-term benefits of forming stronger, more enduring relationships with customers.
2. AR and VR will become much more popular
Earlier, we spoke about Neal Stephenson's book Snow Crash and its depiction of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) as being an integral part of people's everyday lives. These technologies haven't quite taken off in the real world to that extent yet, but Stephenson certainly isn't the only visionary who thinks they are the future.
Meta founder Mark Zuckerberg has invested heavily in AR, VR and the metaverse in recent years, and 2024 could be the year that these investments begin to pay off.
According to Deloitte, the global VR market was predicted to generate around $7 billion in revenues last year – a 50% rise from 2022.
Meta's Quest 3 VR headset launched in October, with the device boasting dimensions that are 40% smaller than its predecessor (albeit at a higher price point).
But it’s the long-awaited Apple Vision Pro (also hitting the shelves in 2024) that gets us particularly excited. With Apple entering the market, and assimilating with their flurry of other household devices, we should see the assimilation of AR and VR pushed even further into our everyday lives come early 2024.
There are other reasons to be excited.
Where VR has perhaps struggled previously is with compelling content. A recent reviewer of the Quest 3 headset said it was an "excellent portal to an empty metaverse". Paul Lee, Deloitte's global head of technology, media, and telecommunications research, has similar concerns:
"The growth of VR will be dependent on the industry creating engaging content that cannot be found elsewhere, which might include an accessible and immersive metaverse experience, at a competitive price."
We think digital humans will be a huge help in delivering these engaging and immersive experiences in 2024.
That's why we launched the first AR/VR digital human software development kit (SDK) in June, which will enable developers to vastly accelerate the speed with which they can deploy engaging AI-powered digital humans into digital environments.
All the pieces are there; so while we’re still in the early days, we strongly envision simulated reality will be a bigger part of our lives this time next year.
3. We'll see the first digital human who can speak 100+ languages
In early 2024, the City of Amarillo in Texas will launch Emma, a UneeQ digital human that's been designed to help local government deliver better public services through its website.
People can ask Emma about trash collection schedules, parking facilities and many other typical local services. But what makes her special is that she'll be able to speak 96 languages fluently.
To put that in perspective, the Guinness World Records holder for most languages spoken by a single person is Ziad Fazah, with 58 languages. It's not even close (sorry Ziad!).
Amarillo has an extremely diverse population of more than 200,000 people. It's estimated that around 62 different languages and dialects are spoken in the city.
However, we believe Emma's record will be broken in 2024 (maybe even by Emma herself) as more and more organizations recognize how important it is to speak to people in their own native tongue.
How important is it, we hear you ask? Well, almost three-quarters of people say they're more likely to buy products from brands that can communicate with them in their native language, while 58% say they 'rarely or never' buy from English-only websites.
In the City or Amarillo with a large refugee population, it's so much more important than that. It means everyone being able to access public services to the same extent.
4. More digital humans will be the face of LLMs
In February 2023, ChatGPT set the record for the fastest growing consumer application in history. Some of the uses ranged from the sublime to the hilarious, as 100 million users took to the platform in its first two months.
Doesn’t seem like less than a year ago, does it?
Today, ChatGPT isn't the only large language model (LLM) in town. Amazon Bedrock is one of the best generative AI tools around. Google’s Bard is a fine option, while Elon Musk's new firm xAI even made some waves with its Grok AI bot.
And we don’t even have time to go into the topic of small language models.
So it’s perhaps a safe prediction to say more businesses will use LLMs integrated to digital humans in 2024. The rationale (and reality) behind this forecast is perhaps the most interesting.
What stops many major brands from innovating more widely with LLMs is the lack of control over what the AI might say to real people. But this is being solved as we speak. Our Synapse feature for our digital humans allows control over how the AI responds, while allowing for greater context that makes LLM conversations more fun and functional.
Secondly, applications like ChatGPT are undoubtedly impressive, but they interact in much the same way as traditional chatbots. You type in a question, they respond with text. It may feel like a two-way conversation, but it's missing some of the best bits – the wit, the rapport, the charm.
We’ve been working with LLMs since the launch of GPT-3 in 2020. And for these two reasons, we expect digital humans to become the face of many more LLMs (quite literally) in 2024, bringing them to life with unique personalities, accents and mannerisms.
Whether it's ChatGPT, Bedrock or a number of other platforms, putting a face and voice to enterprise AI not only make these applications even more engaging and enjoyable to use for consumers, but also helps brands differentiate them from competitors.
5. The biggest digital human celeb will hit the red carpet
We've spoken about digital human celebrities quite a bit in the past. For us – and no doubt brands – the idea of having a celeb ambassador who can interact one on one with an entire fanbase at the same time is certainly a tantalizing one.
Travis Scott's virtual Fortnite concerts gave us a taste of what computer-generated versions of superstars can achieve. The event was attended nearly 46 million times, with many fans tuning in two or more times to see him perform.
Since then, several top artists have tried to recreate Scott's success with virtual concerts of their own, including Ariana Grande, Lil Nas X, Justin Bieber and Twenty One Pilots.
Outside of one-off gigs though, we've not seen any A-list celebrities go all-in on a digital version of themselves. Quite understandably, they (and the brands they work with) have been waiting for proof of ROI before embracing the idea.
But as we mentioned earlier, 2023 has already been a great year for showing the profitability of digital humans. And if 2024 really is the year when a digital human sells at least $10 million worth of products, we expect there to be a lot more interest among celebrities looking to build their brand in the digital realm.
Whether it's interacting with fans in real-time on websites, or hitting the virtual red carpet in the metaverse, we're super excited to see how the world's biggest stars shape their digital legacy.
As for who the first truly A-list celebrity to take the plunge will be? We wouldn't like to guess! All we can say is watch this space – and maybe keep a close eye on our social channels. It's going to be an exciting year!