As virtual and physical worlds continue to merge, a new fleet of digital personalities is poised to transform the workforce.

New advances in digitalization seek to find the right balance of human and digital touch, in an effort to enhance both the working environment and the customer experience.

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Daniel Kalt, chief economist at UBS, and his digital avatar, created by FaceMe
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This year, the UBS Global Wealth Management Innovation Lab unveiled ‘UBS Companion’, an experimental project using life-like digital avatars. The lab partnered with New Zealand artificial intelligence experts FaceMe to create ‘Fin,’ a friendly helper and digital assistant, and ‘Daniel Kalt,’ a digital clone of its Swiss chief economist. To create Kalt’s avatar, FaceMe used a rendering captured by more than 120 high-definition cameras. The virtual replicas can interact with clients and advisors in conversation, make eye contact and even join meetings through a TV screen.

“In the future, we could see UBS advisers in thousands of different rooms, all with Daniel Kalt available as a digital human,” said Mark Fitzgerald, director of government and enterprise at FaceMe. The service has already been rolled out in Zurich, with 100 clients participating in a test run.

In Beijing, news agency Xinhua and Chinese search engine company Sogou.com have developed two avatars of its leading anchors in a bid to boost efficiency and reduce production costs. The broadcaster uses the digital doppelgängers on secondary channels across its English and Chinese language news services and on their website, where they can work 24/7. The avatars learn from live broadcasting videos and can read text as professionally as a human news anchor.

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Daniel Kalt's digital avatar can facilitate long-distance meetings

This kind of technology could also play a huge role in shaping the workplace. In many companies, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are already enabling employees to collaborate in new and exciting ways, eliminating the need for a traditional office location and promoting a more flexible working arrangement. Deloitte have recently adopted a remote-first policy, holding meetings in virtual spaces with employees appearing as avatars. “These virtual meetings allow us to collaborate in a workshop-style setting, as opposed to a standard voice or video teleconference,” said Ed Greig, chief disruptor at Deloitte Digital.

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Lil Miquela
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Shudu

However, despite their potential in uniting employees, some fear that digital avatars might end up replacing a human workforce. Perhaps most immediately at risk is the modeling industry. This year, British company Imraz Models launched an “Imagined Reality Modeling Agency,” creating digital models for any marketing campaign. This comes after a striking Instagram model named Shudu was named the ‘world’s first digital supermodel’ and Lil Miquela, a virtual influencer, style icon and Instagram celebrity, was named an editor of Dazed Beauty.

As the rising generations of digitally-native consumers increasingly expect technology to integrate seamlessly into daily life, the boundaries between the virtual and physical worlds are dissolving. “You have a population of Millennials and Gen Z who are becoming super fluid with their identities, especially online,” said Jerry Lu, an investor at Lux capital, venture capital firm dedicated to emerging technologies. “Avatars represent this fluidity of persona and companies are beginning to realize that having avatars built into their social networks is a useful way to connect with their audience.”