China Plans to Promote, and Regulate, Digital Humans

October 14, 2022

We learn from Rest of World that “Beijing Will Regulate ‘Digital Humans’ in the Metaverse and Beyond.” Because of course it will. The proclamation was issued in the government’s four-year Action Plan, a document that indicates to businesses what it expects of them in the near future. The Chinese seem quite taken with “digital humans,” from virtual idols to game avatars, and President Xi Jinping is eager to capitalize on the trend. Reporter Meaghan Tobin specifies:

“The plan envisions huge growth in the next few years, projecting that by 2025, revenue will hit $7.3 billion in the capital city alone — and expecting that virtual humans will assist with online banking, shopping, and travel services within the next few years.”

Though the growing virtual idol industry has a real problem with overworked employees, that is not a focus of the plan. It has two main priorities: One, naturally, is to promote the “healthy and orderly development of society.” Aka censorship. The other is the security of personal information. That sounds like a good thing—until one considers the government seeks to secure this data for its own purposes. Protecting users from criminals may be just a side benefit. Citing Hanyu Liu, an analysis of China’s gaming and metaverse industries, Tobin continues:

“The plan also signals that Beijing will take a more active role in handling the personal data generated by these platforms. Some of the directives outlined in the plan require any user-facing aspect of the digital human industry to be subject to rules that protect information about and generated by platform users, while also treating user data as a resource to be traded on the country’s new data exchanges. As is the case on almost all user-facing tech platforms in China today, Liu noted, any users of metaverse or gaming platforms that could be considered part of the digital human industry will likely be required to tie their online personas to their real-life identification documents.”

So we should not expect to see a wave of virtual protestors in China any time soon. According to Qiheng Chen, who has analyzed China’s tech policies, this push is an effort to garner talent and funds that will support its larger goal—making the country more self-sufficient in related industries like semiconductors and artificial intelligence. Those do sound a bit more strategic than simply embracing the whimsy of digital pop stars.

Cynthia Murrell, October 14, 2022


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