Baidu Unveils Its Metaverse of Custom Virtual Humans
Chinese tech giant Baidu introduced a metaverse of virtual humans this week at Baidu Create 2021, in deliberate contrast to the presentation by Meta (formerly Facebook) CEO Mark Zuckerberg earlier this year. The digital world, named XiRang, is populated by humans and AI interacting through avatars built on the XiLing platform debuting in tandem with XiRang.
XiRang hosts a digital “Creator City” mimicking a physical city with original and recreated locales like the Shaolin Monastery. The virtual world is accessible through an app on computers and smartphones or with Pico virtual reality headsets. Baidu hosted CEO Robin Li and other executives at an AI conference within XiRang this week. Users with a Baidu service account can register on the app and build an avatar to travel around the virtual world, interacting with others by pointing their avatar at another and talking. XiRang, which means ‘land of hope,’ can support up to 100,000 users at a time right now, which Baidu emphasized because its metaverse is still under development.
According to Baidu CEO Robin Li, the metaverse will kick off a “golden era of AI over the next ten years” and the start of “man-computer symbiosis,” which will change the world. Li claims Baidu has more than a million employees working on AI and plans to quintuple that number in the next five years. “Creators are our companions in pursuing our dreams of technology, they are also one of the great driving forces of human progress,” Li said.
XiLing Virtual Human
XiLing is Baidu’s platform for building digital avatars with artificial intelligence to use in a variety of media. Baidu described it as a tool for designing the virtual spokesperson for audio and video advertisements, social media posts and as a host, not unlike the virtual human built by Sber to host a Russian television show. The enterprise value of virtual humans has risen rapidly over the last few years, and new and improved virtual human tools and creations appear all the time.
Unreal’s launch of MetaHuman Creator in February has accelerated new concepts and startups. AI voice and video startups like Hour One, Supertone, Resemble AI, Veritone, and DeepBrain are all nabbing funding and clients. Virtual humans are appearing in a wide array of venues, whether Nestle Toll House’s virtual human “cookie coach” Ruth, YouTube star Taryn Southern’s virtual clone, or the virtual William Shatner telling stories of his life. Meta’s metaverse began with attempting to make a virtual office, with demand rising quickly as the COVID-19 pandemic affected conferences and other events.
Meanwhile, Nvidia’s Omniverse combines many of its technologies for a comprehensive angle on all of the relevant elements, helping in its goals of leading virtual human and virtual universe development. Nvidia created an entirely virtual version of CEO Jensen Huang to give a small part of a major speech at its conference earlier this year using its Audio2Face software first demonstrated at GTC last year as part of the Nvidia Jarvis AI. Audio2Face applies voice data to animate three-dimensional skin and muscles on a virtual face. It’s one of the hundreds of pre-trained models for Jarvis using Nvidia’s GPU technology.