PRESS: Nigel Latta launches ‘A Curious Mind’ series featuring BabyX

Original Title: “A Curious Mind: Nigel Latta on making popular TV without dumbing it down”

BY HAIMONA GRAY | THE SPINOFF | 25 AUGUST 2018

Television icon Nigel Latta returns to TV, and this time he’s focused on the one thing that governs us all: the brain. Haimona Grey talks to the man himself.

“Our belief has always been that people are interested in interesting things. Sometimes TV patronises the audience, it has a belief that people won’t stay if it’s real content – but they do.” – Nigel Latta.

The general school of thought across the business of entertainment is the broader the appeal of your show, the bigger the potential audience and the lower the risk of failure. 

In the film industry, they call it a ‘four-quadrant movie’: one with broad enough appeal to catch the four major demographic ‘quadrants’ of the movie-going audience: male, female, and both over- and under-25s. 

When failure could lose you your job, having as many ‘quadrants’ on your side as possible seems like a no-brainer. The only safer bet when your job is funding TV shows is having talent, in front and behind the camera, and a good concept. 

This is where Nigel Latta and his production company, Ruckus Media, have separated themselves from their competition. They have brought together talent and good concepts – ones that also happen to have broad appeal – at a prodigious rate. 

Since 2016, Ruckus has produced: two seasons of the Mind Over Money series; the lauded feature length documentary on the health journey of Stan Walker; What’s Next, Latta and John Campbell’s co-hosted series; and his latest, The Curious Mind.

The Curious Mind introduces a new co-host for Latta: BabyX, the literal brainchild of Academy Award-winning artificial intelligence engineer, Professor Mark Sagar. 

I asked Latta what an animated baby has to do with neuroscience, and how Sagar came to be involved.

“Several years ago I was at a science conference in Auckland where Mark Sagar was presenting BabyX. First thought was ‘wow that’s a great animation, it looks exactly like a baby!’, but it was when he kept turning to the baby on the screen to soothe BabyX, I realised it wasn’t an animation, it was a virtual human reacting to Mark and getting upset when he ignores them.

“I have always been interested in [making a] neuroscience show, but it seemed like BabyX was a really good vehicle to show people what is happening inside a brain. So afterwards I went up to Mark to pick his brain, he explained to me that he had always seen BabyX as a learning tool to help teach neuroscience. 

“With The Curious Mind, when we sat down to try and develop a show about the brain we realised there would be much we couldn’t cover. So we tried to look at the really big things which are central to everyone’s lives: how we are wired to connect with other people, how we learn and remember.”

 Nigel Latta and Baby X. Nigel Latta and Baby X.

BLOG: How Interactive learning could transform education with digital teachers

27 August 2018

It’s a world crisis: teacher shortage. The statistics are unsettling as they cast huge concerns for the future of education on a global scale. According to the World Economic Forum: “Currently Nigeria faces the biggest shortages – the West African nation needs an additional 380,000 teachers. India also faces shortages in excess of 350,000, while Indonesia needs nearly 190,000 more teachers.”

The challenges faced by young people living in remote communities in gaining access to education is troubling. Lacking even the most basic literacy and numeracy skills, one-in-three children in Africa still don’t even make it into the classroom. Combine this with the worsening global teacher shortage and the future looks bleak for a huge percentage of the youth of today.

But there is some light on the horizon and it comes from the glow of a computer screen!

Interactive learning in the form of a digital teacher is the catalyst in transforming the floundering education sector by tapping into the Gen Y love of digital media. A digital teacher available anytime on your computer, your tablet or even mobile who looks like a human and behaves like a human. A digital teacher who is pushing the boundaries of education by interacting with students through engaging face-to-face learning. A digital teacher who can be programmed to deliver content in a way that draws in students who previously struggled with more academically focused teaching techniques. And the best part of all is, this is not limited to simply the richer nations of the world.

Digital learning has the potential to bridge the abyss by reaching out to those previously excluded from schooling. Now, more and more classrooms have access to computers as market competition brings prices down and with the cost of internet access cheaper than ever before this has opened up opportunities for technology to reach underprivileged classrooms. Even the challenges of providing tech to the most remote communities on the planet are being harnessed with the rise of robust routers (such as the SupaBRCK) that is not only waterproof but is “solar-powered Wi-Fi that operates as a 3G hotspot and off-grid server.” [TechCrunch]

“…there’s no denying that the use of devices and systems that promote engagement and collaboration bring tremendous value to the learning environment.”  [Education Technology]

It may seem more like a futuristic dream, but digital teaching is not sequestered in the future but is currently being trialled in the form of Will, a digital educator created by Soul Machines™ for Vector, an energy company in New Zealand. Will interacts with young people in a lively and friendly manner as he shares interesting information and fascinating facts around how renewable energy will shape our future world. At the end of each future energy topic, as selected by the user, Will asks a pertinent question which the young students answer by picking from a multiple choice selection. The engagement factor of this form of learning is high, with interactions that stimulate problem-solving and critical thinking which can awaken young and curious minds.

So, if digital educators can help with the world’s teacher shortage, if they can enhance learning through dynamic interactions and if they can reach remote communities then they can affect change on a global scale. Every child has the right to an education and if a digital teacher can help open doors to a future that was previously shut to so many, then a digital teacher could play a vital part in transforming education as we know it.


Sources from media quotes:

  1. The Guardian
  2. New York Post
  3. UNESCO

 

Meet Will – Vector’s new renewable energy educator in schools

Media Release  | 22 August 2018

In a first for education, Vector is exploring the use of “digital human” technology in its energy education programmes in primary schools.

In conjunction with New Zealand’s leading AI company Soul Machines™, Vector has created Will, a “digital teacher” being trialed in its award-winning ‘Be Sustainable with Energy’ schools programme, which is offered free of charge to schools within Vector’s Auckland electricity network. The school’s programme was launched in 2005 and has since educated more than 125,000 children about energy.

Will can interact with children from a desktop, tablet, or mobile, and helps them to learn about renewable energy such as geothermal, solar, and wind. Will challenges kids on their renewable energy knowledge by asking questions such as “how tall is a wind turbine?”; “how long does sunlight take to reach the earth?”; and “when we burn biomass, what do you think is let off as the main by-product?”

Vector’s Chief Digital Officer, Nikhil Ravishankar, says it’s critical the company uses new and emerging technologies which will allow Vector to have better conversations with its customers – including its future generation.

“Our work with Soul Machines is a very effective use case as an education tool for kids around renewable energy and creating a new energy future.”

“What was fascinating to me was the reaction of the children to Will. The way they look at the world is so creative and different, and Will really captured their attention.”

“Using a digital human is a very compelling method to deliver new information to people, and I have a lot of hope in this technology as a means to deliver cost-effective, rich, educational experiences into the future.”

Will uses Soul Machines™’ world-leading Artificial Nervous System – an autonomous animation platform that is modelled on the way the human brain and nervous system work – to bring his digital human face and persona to life in a very human-like way.

Soul Machines™ Chief Business Officer, Greg Cross, says education is going to be one of the breakthrough applications for Soul Machine’s technology as digital teachers have the potential to democratize the delivery of education to students everywhere (particularly those in remote communities) and help address the growing teacher shortages on a global scale.

“Creating one of the world’s first digital teachers has been one of the company’s most exciting assignments. The opportunity to see digital interactions with children in the classroom has been a fantastic part of this project with the next generation of Vector’s users.

Working with such an innovative company with a vision to create a new energy future, we’ve been able to not only demonstrate the power of digital humans in education, but also show how our technology can play an important role in helping companies reinvent themselves.”


About Vector

Vector is New Zealand’s largest distributor of electricity and gas, owning and operating networks which span the Auckland region. We’re leading the transformation of the energy sector to create a new energy future with sustainable energy technology, which includes solar power, energy storage, EV charging stations, and smart meters, and we’re constantly identifying and developing options that will provide value, choice, and service for our customers.

About Soul Machines

Soul Machines™ is a ground-breaking high-tech company of AI researchers, neuroscientists, psychologists, artists and innovative thinkers; re-imagining how we connect with machines. It brings technology to life by creating lifelike, emotionally responsive artificial humans with personality and character that allow machines to talk to humans literally face-to-face. The company’s vision is to humanize artificial intelligence to better humanity. Soul Machines™ is now deploying the world’s first digital humans with some of the biggest corporate brands in the world in Banking and Finance, Software and Technology, Automotive, Healthcare, Energy and Education industries.