PRESS: Is NZ Ready for Artificial Intelligence?

Excerpt from INSIGHT on Radio New Zealand | 25 March 2018

Story by Philippa Tolley, Insight Executive Producer

Dire warnings have been made about the impact of artificial intelligence, robotics and automation on jobs and society. But after being flagged for years, what steps have New Zealand and New Zealanders taken to be ready?

 Soul Machines Chief Business Officer, Greg Cross, hopes digital humans will in where there are shortages Soul Machines™ Chief Business Officer, Greg Cross, hopes digital humans will in where there are shortages

New Zealanders are used to the idea of automation and industrial robots in manufacturing and some homes have those disc shaped vacuum cleaners roaming the house of their own volition in order to keep everything spick and span. Many people have exchanged messages with chat bots online in order to get a few questions answered. But a New Zealand company, Soul Machines™, has taken the chat bot idea to the next level and developed so called “digital humans.”  

Just over a month ago, the Natwest Bank in the UK started testing an artificial intelligence-powered “digital human” called Cora who will converse with customers from a terminal in bank branches, with the aim of cutting down on waiting times. The bank hopes Cora’s artificial intelligence will eventually expand to answering hundreds of different questions, but at the same time insists the avatar is there to complement, not replace humans.

Cora is a British sounding version of a digital human created by the Auckland based company, Soul Machine. She is based on a real New Zealander, Rachel, who is an avatar engineer with the company. The sky is almost the limit for this type of technology in the eyes of the chief business officer, Greg Cross. Not only is the company developing digital humans for customers such as the automotive industry and the banking and finance industries, but he can see the technology helping  in a wide range of areas such as specialist teaching in more remote places and medical services.

“Maybe AI in combinations with our digital humans can provide a level of service and a level of knowledge that previously people just haven’t had access to because nobody wants to provide those services or can afford to provide those services.”

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VIDEO: Meet Ava,Your Personal Assistant | March 20, 2018 Rachael Rekart, Director of Machine Assistance at Autodesk, joins the Cheddar news team to discuss how artificial intelligence is helping creators bring their visions to life.

CLICK ON THE IMAGE BELOW TO WATCH THE INTERVIEW is a live and on demand video news network focused on covering the most innovative products, technologies, and services transforming our lives. is a live and on demand video news network focused on covering the most innovative products, technologies, and services transforming our lives.

‘We have developed an Autodesk Virtual Assistant named Ava and have partnered with Soul Machines™ to bring her from chat only to a voice and video representation. We are also enabling the ability for our customers to engage with Ava while she is able to read and respond to emotions during the interaction with the hope of actually improving the overall engagement through emotional intelligence”

Rachel Rekart – Director or Machine Assistance at Autodesk.


RADIO: Greg Cross on RadioLIVE talks about where the tech of AI can take us

Listen to Greg Cross on RadioLIVE

Article from RadioLIVE | 01 March 2018

NZ needs to embrace AI or will be left behind – expert

Auckland company Soul Machines™ is on the cutting edge of world technology in artificial intelligence.

They have recently been working with IBM on a human-like avatar named ‘Rachel’ using emotional cognitive intelligence to recognise and respond to human needs and emotions.

Soul Machines™ Chief Business Officer Greg Cross says that New Zealand needs to embrace AI technology or will be quickly left behind.

He says jumping on the AI bandwagon is a big challenge but a big opportunity for New Zealand companies.

Greg Cross joins Stephen McIvor on RadioLIVE Drive to talk about where the tech of AI can take us.

Drive with Stephen McIvor, 3pm – 6pm Weekdays and streaming live on ‘rova’ channel 9 – available on Android and iPhone.


HOT OFF THE PRESS: Daimler Finance CIO Seeks Digital Assistant With Emotional Intelligence

“It will be a game changer,’ says CIO Udo Neumann

By Sara Castellanos and Kim S. Nash | The Wall Street Journal | Mar 1, 2018

 Udo Neumann, global chief information officer for Daimler Financial Services, standing next to Sarah, the 'digital human,' at 2018's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Photo: Daimler AG Udo Neumann, global chief information officer for Daimler Financial Services, standing next to Sarah, the ‘digital human,’ at 2018’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Photo: Daimler AG

Digital assistants on the market now can help customers with tasks like finding the right pair of jeans and making payments to credit cards, all while being polite, helpful and sometimes witty.

Udo Neumann, global chief information officer for Daimler Financial Services, is exploring how digital assistance could go even further.

An assistant with a human-like “face,” with instant access to helpful data and programmed to detect how people are feeling and respond accordingly, could help gain customer and employee trust, Mr. Neumann said. “It’s clearly the next step in the development of an evolving technology, (where) emotions come into play.”

 Daimler Financial's Sarah can react to spoken and typed words as well as non-verbal queues. Photo: Daimler AG Daimler Financial’s Sarah can react to spoken and typed words as well as non-verbal queues. Photo: Daimler AG

Daimler Financial Services, a division of Daimler AG, announced this week it’s partnering with New Zealand startup Soul Machines™ on a proof-of-concept project to see how a digital assistant with a face and a name could give personalized help to employees and customers.

The companies, which have worked together for several months, are developing a “digital human” built with AI software from IBM Watson that can be programmed to answer questions related to car financing, leasing and insurance, and capabilities to recognize non-verbal cues using face recognition technology.

“It will be a game changer. I think we humans love to have interactions on an emotional basis,” Mr. Neumann said.

Neural networking and machine learning tools lets an early version, named Sarah, react to spoken and typed words as well as non-verbal queues such as a loud noise or a nodding head in agreement.

Sarah can be programmed with highly specialized knowledge about, for example, the latest Mercedes models and information about leasing options, said Greg Cross, chief business officer at Soul Machines™.

“They learn to recognize you, learn about your personality type and respond and create conversational content that matches you,” Mr. Cross said.

The project is in the early stages of development, with no date set for when Sarah could be deployed to employees or customers, Mr. Neumann said. “We want to combine artificial intelligence and emotional intelligence and see how these capabilities come together,” he said.

The digital human could eventually act as a “companion” for employees at a call center or training center, he said. For customers, talking to such an avatar might increase purchases among those who feel intimidated by high-pressure sales staff, said Mr. Cross.

“Some people don’t feel comfortable in a sales room. They will have a conversation in their living room,” he said.

Then, when a customer visits a dealership for a test drive, the customer and the salesperson could converse with the avatar at a kiosk, sharing information, Mr. Cross said.

Unlike humans, Soul Machines™’ digital assistant can be programmed only with traits that help it perform a job, he said. Anger and frustration, for example, will not exist. “The digital sales person simply will not have these traits,” he said.

The goal isn’t to replace a human salesperson, though. “It becomes another way a customer can interact with the company,” he said.

PRESS: Would you pay to immortalise yourself in a digital forever?

Madison Reidy | SUNDAY STAR TIMES | February 18, 2018

To watch the video click here

Soul Machines™ has created eight virtual twins so far and digital Rachel is one of them.

The digital-human is a facsimile of company employee Rachel Love, though she was renamed and used by Air New Zealand as an ambassador last year.

Soul Machines employee Rachel Love is one of only eight people in the world who have a virtual version of themselves. Photo : Peter Meecham /Stuff

The pair are strikingly similar, even if their eyes are different colours: Love has blue eyes, digital Rachel’s are brown.

Soul Machines™ employee Rachel Love is one of only eight people in the world who have a virtual version of themselves.

Digital Rachel reacts like any human might. Smile, and she smiles back. Clap abruptly in her face and she is startled.

But she is not human. She is software. She has a face, and is programmed to be “emotionally responsive”, but she lives within a computer.

Digital Rachel, created by the New Zealand-based artificial intelligence company, represents a latest step in our journey to achieving immortality.

Soul Machines™ wants to make life after death a reality by allowing us to exchange our blood and tissue for pixels and hardware to create digital clones of ourselves.

It aims to make digital humans a mainstream option within a decade.


As the pair spent time together, digital Rachel learned Love’s mannerisms, personality and politeness, downloading it all into her virtual nervous system – a digital brain built to work like a human brain.

It is a technological revolution Soul Machines™’ engineers, neuroscientists and psychologists have spent years developing.

When she sees a person, Rachel is programmed to recognise facial expressions and speech and respond appropriately.

The system’s intricacy includes a flow of dopamine through Rachel’s brain when someone smiles at her, notifying her to smile back. Movement tracking allows her eyes to follow a person when they shift past the screen she lives behind.

She is artificially intelligent so requires no manual control. Through machine learning, she gets smarter with every interaction.

Soul Machines™ chief business officer Greg Cross says after creating the likeness of a person, they must then create “the personality and the knowledge base that drives the digital human behind it”.

“Our virtual nervous system will be what brings it to life in an incredibly accurate version of yourself.”

The company has spent years creating freakishly realistic digital avatars that react and respond like humans.

For now, they sell them to companies to hire as digital employees and ambassadors. But the business case for digital humans extends far beyond the corporate world.

Cross says they are already working with a handful of confidential celebrities who want a digital double to preach their philanthropic message and keep their legacy alive forever.

“Imagine being able to build a digital version of that person for the purpose of continuing the story of that philanthropic foundation.

“Or you could take an iconic entrepreneur like Richard Branson and say what would it be like to start building a Branson now, so he can continue to have an influence and his stories and his journeys can continue to be told for generations to come.”

Cross says they are already working on a project to bring back to live “a very, very famous person” who lived in an era before photography and video. He is not, however, revealing who the returnee will be.

Soul Machines™’ latest technological advancement is a motor control system in their Baby X 5.0 infant digital human.

Adult digital humans such as Rachel are little more than a talking head. Baby X 5.0 has limbs it can move, too, to make hand gestures. It has a pumping heart and lungs.

Soul Machines™ is not the only player in the digital immortality game.

Start-up wants to make people “virtually immortal” by amalgamating their online photos, videos and conversations after they die so family and friends can continue to speak to them.

“Think of it like a library that has people instead of books. An invaluable treasure for humanity,”’s website says.

Some 40,000 people have already signed up to one day become virtually immortal.

Cross says having a ‘humanised’ digital copy of yourself living in the cloud will be mainstream in five to 10 years.

“We see a world in the future where there will be populations, millions, of these digital humans. We believe that will create a pool of what we call digital DNA™ to recreate just about any face in the world.”

In his opinion, everyone should have the option to exist forever in the virtual world. It will empower the general population, he says.


But this use-case for technology raises as many ethical and legal questions as it does eyebrows.

Who will own the information your digital-self holds about you and your life after you die?

Technology law firm Hudson Gavin Martin partner Edwin Lim says that depends on the service contract agreement between the digital human creator and the person they create it for.

Cross says the protection and privacy of the information a digital human holds is paramount.

Unlike most modern social media platforms, when interacting with a digital human, people have the choice to tell them as much or as little information as they want.

“We have become the opt-in society. We agree to give data away without really knowing what we are doing. It should be you deciding how much of that information, and how much of you, you want to share.”

What is of more concern, though, is identity theft. Humans aren’t hackable, digital humans are.

Cross says that is already a contentious conversation worldwide. But he is optimistic the technology won’t fall into the wrong hands.

“I can honestly say I have not met a single person who is not doing this because they are doing something amazing for mankind, for human society.”

Lim says the legal realm was grappling to come to terms with legislating digital humans, because they, or any artificially intelligent machine, do not meet the definitions of a legal entity. That in itself is a danger.

“New Zealand law has not adequately caught up with the rapid development of technology, and artificial intelligence in particular. This is because of the lack of or move away from human input, which is a fundamental assumption of most contracts and legislation.”

Until the problems of such technology come to fruition and make it to court, it is hard to legislate their responsibilities, he says.

Cross says before digital humans become mainstream ghosts, they will become commonplace in the workforce.

He expects all large companies will soon start hiring digital humans to do mundane tasks in industries where skills are short.

At the moment, they are single-faceted, they are not autonomous and do not have minds of their own.

“The digital humans we are creating, like Rachel, only have one specific task, to deliver a service or be able to sell a product. They are programmed. They are limited.”

He says the rate of change happening today is mind blowing and its impact on society is inevitable.

The day when a funeral fund pays for a digital clone to exist forever seems far-fetched. But so did an iPhone, 15 years ago.

“We adapt to change in a way that nothing else does, that is part of who we are.”

 – Read the full story at Sunday Star Times