I’ve been writing and talking about digital humans for some time now, strongly and assured they will enter our lives sooner than we expect. The other thing that keeps me thinking is the impact it will have on a number of aspects in society.

Ethics: how do we go about with ethical questions like if we always have to show by a certificate or logo it is not a real human you’re engaging with.

Business modelling: will they drill down costs for routine operations like making appointments, answering FAQs, will they – due to their global scale – have 2 or 3 dominant players worldwide that will speak 40 languages fluently?

Impact on jobs: is the assumption that ‘robots’ (and digital humans) will steal our jobs correct, or will they create new jobs to design them, train them, optimise them. Or – like in healthcare – they might help cope with the burden of a doubling healthcare demand, by assisting in routine and repetitive tasks.

What will be the impact on education: many students use Khan Academy as their tutor, will digital humans be added to such a service or will it disrupt even Khan Academy and others by offering 24/7 interactive teachers?

One thing we do know: we have no clue what so ever at the moment. At the moment I’m thrilled to see what they can do, I see a clear benefit, but also challenges. Seeing what our friends over at Soul Machines are doing makes me wonder even more: will there be a time when we don’t need our body anymore?

About this column:

In a weekly column, alternately written by Maarten Steinbuch, Mary Fiers, Carlo van de Weijer, Lucien Engelen, Tessie Hartjes and Auke Hoekstra, Innovation Origins tries to find out what the future will look like. The six columnists, occasionally supplemented with guest bloggers, are all working in their own way on solutions for the problems of our time. So that tomorrow will be good. Here are all previous episodes.

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