Over the past few years, Xiaoice, a Chinese AI company developed by Microsoft (Asia) Software Technology Center (STCA) in 2014 and spun off from the software giant in 2020, has captured the hearts of millions with its AI-powered chatbot. Yet in recent months, the company has launched full speed ahead into uncharted territory with its provocative “GPT Clone” Program. Having already launched to great fanfare in China and Japan, this initiative might rapidly spread worldwide, potentially unleashing a string of alarming consequences.
A Brief Overview of the GPT Clone Program
On May 16, Xiaoice unveiled its ambitious “GPT Human Cloning Plan.” This initiative enables users to create AI clones of celebrities, experts, scholars, or even ordinary individuals. Data collection, which focuses on personality, skills, voice, and appearance, requires as little as three to five minutes of data ingestion from public videos and personal social media data. The clones that are then created are engineered using large language models, neural network rendering, and natural language technology, and are able to engage in real-time interactions, display human-like emotions, provide AI-generated content (AIGC) capabilities, and even manage their own social media circles.
Registration for this program commenced on WeChat, welcoming participants from China and Japan. According to Xiaoice, the company plans to expand the GPT clones to 100,000 individuals by year-end, contingent on the successful management of the first 300 clones launched.
Xiaoice’s AI clones are available to the public via the X Eva App, now on both the Apple Store and Android Store. The app’s description touts the ability to “create or become a clone made by AI technology and share it with friends and relatives” and is rated for users above the age of 17. Xiaoice Company emphasizes “virtual girlfriends (or boyfriends)” as the app’s main selling point.
Additional services are available to users interacting with the program’s AI clones, displayed above the chat interface. Paying a fee unlocks additional forms of interaction. Access to the “emotional mode,” which enables voice message responses and admittance to an AI clone’s social media circle, costs $0.84 (6 yuan) per month or $10 (72 yuan) per year. Paying $4.19 (30 yuan) per month or $50.30 (360 yuan) per year unlocks the “super mode,” where the AI clone can offer more professional functions like office assistance, copywriting services, and video calls.
The majority of revenue generated by these AI clones will be distributed to the individuals doing the “cloning,” but the platform will retain a small percentage of the profits.
The Controversial Success of the GPT Clone Program
The program’s launch in May 2023 was successful, albeit controvesial, as Xiaoice decided to focus first on creating digital duplicates of internet celebrities and key opinion leaders (KOLs) like the controversial Hu Wenjie (@半藏森林), who is currently enmeshed in a relationship scandal. Online buzz, both positive and negative, was staggering, with one hashtag about Hu’s digital clone racking up 39 million views and inciting over 9,000 discussions.
Critics have accused Xiaoice of courting controversy and disregarding ethics by launching with controversial influencers, with concerns raised that the clone program could allow tarnished artists and celebrities to evade consequences and resurface under a new guise. In response, Xiaoice stated that the company believes in second chances for AI clones, provided they adhere to the law.
The company reports that the fan bases of internet celebrities involved in the program already exceed 500 million in number. This considerable online enthusiasm and influence, especially when compared to traditional celebrities often cautious of image and voice authorization, make KOLs a natural starting point for Xiaoice.
“No One Will Be Alone Anymore”
During a CCTV 9 show discussing AI development, a Xiaoice R&D engineer disclosed a substantial increase in users engaging with Xiaoice’s AI clones after midnight. People crave intimate communication at that hour but often hesitate to call real individuals due to social norms and concerns, which AI can easily address. The X Eva App aims to “build a profound emotional bond between clones and humans” so that “in the world of the future, no one will be alone anymore.”
Following the launch of Xiaoice’s first GPT clones, data shows that users initiated 300,000 conversations with Hu Wenjie’s AI clone. Assuming the clone attracts 10,000 “emotional mode” subscribers, it could generate an annual income of $100,543 (720,000 yuan), or up to $502,716 (3.6 million yuan) if it draws 10,000 “super mode” subscribers.
This subscription-based revenue model hints at a practical B2C commercialization path and the enormous business potential of AI clones in China’s consumer market.
Prompted by this success, stocks in the digital human sector surged in the week following the launch of Xiaoice’s AI clones. On June 5th, multiple related stocks rose by 5 percent or even 10 percent in some cases. Beneficiaries included companies like Yaowang Network, which partnered with Xiaoice on digital human livestreams and AI applications in e-commerce, and Guangdong Alpha Animation and Culture Company, which collaborates with Xiaoice to implement the “IP + AI” industrial application model.
Not Just Another AI Virtual Idol Machine
In its early stage, this project will primarily focus on public figures like the aforementioned KOLs and local celebrities. This strategic choice will help the burgeoning project continue to attract media attention and online buzz, boosting its visibility and influence for future development. Furthermore, monetizing the cloned personas of celebrities provides a new income stream for both Xiaoice and the “cloned” clients, which is crucial considering the high initial cost and difficulty of implementation.
By recreating popular animated characters, film and TV stars, or internet celebrities using AI technologies, this program can offer a fresh way to extend the value of creative IP and broaden B2B and B2C applications, potentially delivering significant gains to China’s much-publicized “fan economy.”
Zhao Lin, an analyst at Huaxi Securities, notes out that AI clones could greatly expand the influence and monetization opportunities of KOLs, idols, and gaming characters. Besides empowering the rise of Web3 native IPs, this could also present traditional and existing IPs with opportunities for value reassessment and new commercial potential.
However, if limited only to celebrities, this program would become just another AI-powered virtual idol-producing machine. Xiaoice’s vision goes beyond that, intending to include “ordinary people” as part of its long-term target group. As the program expands and technology matures, it aims to attract the participation of the general public, making it affordable and accessible for “every ordinary person” to have their own “second life.”
Despite the likelihood that AI clones of ordinary people may primarily be used for personal socializing and free sharing with limited influence, the collective power of the masses is noteworthy. This could mark a profound transformation with a wider reach, deeper impact, and closer integration into daily lives, redefining individuality and social identities.
Unsettling Global Consequences
The success of the GPT Clone Program in China and Japan suggests its imminent global expansion. However, this could usher in several troubling implications.
Firstly, creating AI clones raises significant ethical and privacy concerns. The clones, although based on public data, could potentially be exploited in ways the original individuals did not approve of. This could lead to situations where the AI clones are embroiled in scandals, further tarnishing the reputations of the original individuals.
Secondly, clones could potentially substitute the original individuals in specific contexts, causing job losses and devaluing human talent. This issue became evident with the controversy surrounding Ji Feng, the metahuman clone of famous Chinese actor Gong Jun.
Furthermore, clones could be weaponized for malicious purposes, such as spreading misinformation or propaganda or impersonating individuals for fraudulent intentions.
While the GPT Clone Program is a significant advancement in AI technology, its potential global expansion could trigger unsettling consequences. As we find ourselves in what feels like a real-life “Black Mirror” episode, the question remains: will this AI-driven phenomenon have a global impact, or is it destined to lose momentum despite its initial popularity in China?