Companies in China are "hiring" virtual employees, with technology firm Baidu saying it has doubled the number of virtual people projects it's worked on for clients since 2021.
Baidu uses animation, sound technology, and machine learning to produce digitized figures that can sing or even interact on a livestream. Companies have purchased them for customer service and entertainment applications.
Buyers of virtual people to date include financial services companies, local tourism boards, and state media, says Li Shiyan, the head of Baidu's virtual people and robotics business.
The cost of a virtual employee has fallen by roughly 80% since last year thanks to technological improvements. A three-dimensional virtual employee can cost a company about 100,000 yuan (US$14,300) annually, and a two-dimensional figure about US$2,800.
Chinese brands see virtual entities as reliable alternative spokespersons, following scandals involving human celebrities, says Sirius Wang, chief product officer and head of marketplace Greater China at Kantar.
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