PRESS: Is NZ Ready for Artificial Intelligence?

March 26th, 2018

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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