Science fiction movies have prepared us for the distinct possibility that artificial intelligence will walk among us someday. How soon? No one can say — but that isn’t stopping a raft of companies by trying to sell “digital humans” before that whole intelligence thing gets figured out. Ah, but what if you don’t want to buy a digital human because that sounds icky? Rent one, of course! That’s why we now have the regrettable acronym Digital Human as a Service (DHaaS).
The actual news here is that Japanese telecom giant KDDI has partnered with a firm named Mawari (which means something along the lines of “surroundings” in Japanese) to create a virtual assistant you can “see” through the window of your smartphone in augmented reality, one who might automatically pop up to give you directions and interact if you point your phone at a real-world location. (You’ll also see walking directions and indoor maps in the video, but those simply appear to be packaged together as part of the proof of concept.)
If you peek the video atop this post, you can see it’s not that much more advanced than, say, Pokémon Go. But behind the scenes, the partners claim that KDDI’s 5G network, Amazon’s low-latency AWS Wavelength edge computing nodes, and a proprietary codec from Mawari combine to let “digital humans” stream to your phone in real time instead of running natively on your phone’s chip.
That “substantially lower[s] the heavy processing requirements of real-time digital humans, reducing cost, data size and battery consumption while unlocking scalability,” according to the press release. (It’s true that AR apps like Pokémon Go tend to chow down on battery, but it’s not just graphics to blame; some of that is running GPS, camera and cellular simultaneously.)
Who’s going to jump on board to actually populate the metaverse with experiences designed for KDDI and Mawari’s “digital humans” and pay monthly, quarterly or annually for the “service” part of the acronym? That’s always the question, but there’s no shortage of companies looking to lean into the buzzy metaverse these days. And if they can leverage their existing buzzwords like “5G”, “AI” and “Edge compute,” so much the better. It takes a lot of work to look like you’re paying attention to the future, and you never know if this is the moment someone actually manages to make fetch happen.