PRESS: A brave new world of digital humans…

Excerpt from story by Eva Xiao | TECH IN ASIA | December 13, 2017

Other AI companies are giving smart avatars even finer-grained sensibilities, such as minute facial expressions and emotional responsiveness. New Zealand-based Soul Machines™, a startup spun off from the University of Auckland, has developed what it calls a ‘virtual nervous system,’ which is designed to mimic how chemical reactions – like a surge of dopamine – affect the human brain.

For instance, a sudden, loud noise might startle one of Soul Machine’s digital humans. If you smile at one, it will smile back at you, mirroring your temperament. Over time, the company’s humanoid avatars can start catering to your distinctive personality and behavior, whether you’re a middle-aged businesswoman or a 20-year-old college student.

 Greg Cross, Chief Business Officer, Soul Machines Greg Cross, Chief Business Officer, Soul Machines™

“At the end of the day, as human beings, the most emotionally engaged conversations we have are face-to-face conversations,” Greg Cross, chief business officer at Soul Machines™, tells Tech in Asia. “When we communicate face-to-face, we open a whole lot of new communicational channels – all the non-verbal communication channels.”

As humans interact with more machines in their daily lives, putting a face on AI will become increasingly important, he believes. “We see the human face as being an absolutely critical part of the human-machine interaction in the future.”

In November, Soul Machines™ announced that it was working with 3D-design software maker Autodesk to create a 24/7 service agent, scheduled to launch in 2018. Other areas of interest include virtual trainers, healthcare providers, teachers, and even animated toys, allowing kids to talk with their favorite characters, says Cross.

A possible consequence of machines becoming more human-like is the potential for emotional manipulation. It’s not so hard to imagine a virtual sales agent guilt-tripping you into buying something, after all. But Cross explains the ways in which emotionally capable avatars can be used to help humans, such as those with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“If you look at human beings today, there’s a growing number of us [who] are depressed, who are on drugs, because we can’t deal with our own emotions. One of the areas [where we might] be able to make a difference is in creating support systems,” he shares.

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HOT OFF THE PRESS: Air New Zealand wins Innovation in Technology Solutions.. with a little help from Sophie!

New Zealand Innovation Awards: Innovation in Technology Solutions, Air New Zealand

Excerpt from IDEALOG | 1December 11, 2017

 

 Sophie - created by Soul Machines for Air New Zealand Sophie – created by Soul Machines™ for Air New Zealand

And the winner of the Innovation in Technology Solutions is… Air New Zealand!

It’s one of Aotearoa’s best-known international brands, in part because of its creative inflight safety videos. But Air New Zealand is also gaining international attention due to its desire to innovate and its clever use of technology to enhance the customer experience.

Embracing the new rather than protecting the old takes confidence, of course. And the airline has it in spades. Recently, it announced the arrival of Sophie, a digital human created by Soul Machines™ to answer questions about New Zealand as a tourist destination and the airline’s products and services. Powered by artificial intelligence and possessing an advanced emotional intelligence and responsiveness, Sophie was shown at the unveiling of Air New Zealand’s “A better way to fly” campaign. Sophie uses neural networks and brain models, and received additional AI support from IBM’s famed Watson. For her specific role with Air New Zealand, Sophie learned specifically about New Zealand and Air New Zealand, tweaking her Kiwi accent and perfecting her facial expressions.

 

EVENT: At the McKinsey Experience Lab in Berlin

Greg Cross sharing some of Soul Machines™ technology with a keen group of tech savvy attendees at the McKinsey Experience Lab in Berlin

Berlin Experience Studio

Located inside Europe’s largest start-up campus—Berlin’s Rocket Tower—the Berlin Experience Studio brings together the greatest talent and tools to help redefine customer journeys, products, and entire business models.

Through simulation exercises, advanced technologies, and partnerships with cutting-edge start-ups, the Studio helps facilitate ways to engage in digital capability building and test and scale new solutions.

 

EVENT: Soul Machines™ at Most Contagious, London 2017

Most Contagious 2017 – Old Truman Brewery, London.

Excerpt from Most Contagious

In it’s 6th year the acclaimed MOST CONTAGIOUS on Wednesday, 6 December 2017 gathers 600 leaders and shapers from the world’s most successful and pioneering brands, agencies, media organisations and technologies to reveal the truly ground breaking campaigns, innovations and trends of 2017.

MOST CONTAGIOUS brings this all together on one day, providing tightly focused insights and powerful inspiration for a successful 2018 and beyond. With talks by industry experts, leaders from major brands, world-class agencies and disruptive start-ups, plus our innovation awards, bespoke breakout sessions and our immersive exhibition showcasing the cutting edge of media, marketing and technology, this is a unique day that creatives, marketers and change makers simply can’t afford to miss.

Greg Cross features as a Key Speaker for SOUL MACHINES™ / AI + EI

Sharing how Soul Machines™ is humanising computing by imbuing avatars with emotional intelligence and how this could transform every single customer service offering in the next few years.

SOUL MACHINES™ BLOG: Giving the Have Nots what the Haves have already got!

Imagine a future …..
where your personal financial advisor never lets you fall into the red, where your personal trainer ensures your fitness programme compensates for that sore ankle, or where your personal chauffeur always gets you to where you need to be on time.

This future has already arrived for the Haves – the 1% of the population today; but this future is in fact around the corner for us all as the digital revolution levels-out the playing field for human kind.  It’s a prediction theorised by Hal Varian (chief economist for Google) who suggested you can forecast the future by looking at what wealthy people have today, the poor will have tomorrow.  With the rise of digital disruption this future is moving faster than ever into our present.

“Hal’s point is that tech progress quite quickly makes initially expensive things
— both goods and services — cheaper, and so hastens their spread”

— What do the rich have now that will soon spread?” Andrew McFee, Financial Times

Newcomers to digital disruption in India are already joining the revolution in droves. No longer  reliant on typing to source or send information, they have leapt over the literacy wall to embrace voice-driven apps and video as a means of communication they can relate to.

Basic smartphones and cheap data plans are opening doors to interactive technology for the less-educated providing them with the opportunity to become an emerging part of this online expansion. Breaking down barriers, new technology is giving those denied education due to poverty instant access to information and services that were once the domain of the rich.

There will always be services that would hugely benefit the mainstream which the 1% take for granted. So democratising the level of personalised service and knowledge enjoyed by the few, creates access and advantages for the many.

One-on-one teachers, advisors, coaches, companions even, are waiting in the wings ready to take centre stage as digital technology bridges the gap between the Haves and the Have Nots.

Possibly one of the true perks of the Haves is that of being chauffeur driven.  Driverless cars are indeed imminent but a digital chauffeur who you can see and talk to, will do a lot to assuage the innate fear of handing over the controls of your vehicle to a computer.

The wealthy have personal bankers to provide wise investing scenarios to ensure their clients’ wealth doesn’t slip through their fingers.  A digital financial advisor can provide individual advice to anyone in a friendly face-to-face conversation, always knowing the relevant contextual information drawn from your previous interactions.

And who wouldn’t love a digital personal trainer? This isn’t a faceless app, but a digital coach who can not only devise a personalised fitness programme but can talk you through each routine giving you guidance every step of the way.

This technology is being developed today and will go some way in giving the Have Nots what the Haves have already got!

Further Reading:

Wall Street Journal: The End of Typing: The Next Billion Mobile Users Will Rely On Video and Voice

Financial Times: What do the rich have now that will soon spread?

 

Blog by Soul Machines™ | December 5, 2017

 

ENGINEERING.COM: Meet AVA, Autodesk’s First Virtual Employee

Excerpt from story by Andrew Wheeler | Engineering.com | November 30, 2017

A pilot program to create a 24/7 virtual agent that could help customers resolve issues was started a year ago at Autodesk.

According to a blog post written by Stacey Doyle, Autodesk Virtual Agent (AVA) is a “pro at answering customer’s most common questions, directing people to content and completing transactions.”

The post claims that AVA can reduce “time to resolution” from 60 hours to just a few minutes or however fast a customer can type an inquiry. Doyle also reports that AVA has increased customer satisfaction levels by 10 points.

AVA is an automated deep-learning workhorse, handling 35,000 customer questions every month!

Using natural language processing and machine learning, AVA uses digital reams of information, including forum posts, chat logs, a multitude of keywords, syntax and idioms.

Launched at Autodesk University in a partnership with Soul Machines™, AVA’s digital human face is currently in its first aesthetic phase, but its eerily humanized face is just the beginning. Besides looks, AVA has a lot of personality for a self-described “non-human.”

AVA is also something of an intercorporate conglomeration, powered by IBM Watson’s cognitive platform and Soul Machines™’ patented Human Computing Engine (HCE), with design information processed by Autodesk software. The Soul Machines™ HCE is a “virtual nervous system” that uses neural networks in combination with other biologically inspired models of the human brain.

At 1:46 of the video below, you can see a glimpse of AVA’s future form, which she will metamorphize into in the future. Based on real-time reality capture data of a young woman, Soul Machines™ is using Autodesk software to create what it sees as the future of customer interaction.

Designed by Oscar-winning CEO Dr. Mark Sagar, AVA will incorporate voice and video capabilities, interpreting them and presenting customers with solutions to their inquiries.

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