PRESS: 5G will help bring digital humans to life

Article by Chris Ashraf as featured on Verizon News | March 11, 2019

Imagine walking into a hotel and being greeted by a virtual assistant in a kiosk who can answer all of your questions. Now imagine that virtual assistant could react to what you say, the tone you say it in and your body language. Sensing the frustration in your voice that the king room you reserved will not be ready for a couple of hours and overhearing you talk with your spouse about the long, uncomfortable flight, the virtual assistant offers to store your bags and directs you to the hotel lounge where the first round of drinks has been comped.

Does this sound like science fiction? 5G is working to help make this type of interaction a lot more real and a lot less make believe.

At the Verizon 5G Lab in New York City, one of five Verizon 5G Labs located throughout the U.S., we’re working with start-ups to test out how 5G can enhance existing technologies and create totally new experiences.

We recently showed off some new consumer and business 5G use cases including one from Soul Machines, a company that is putting a face on artificial intelligence (AI) by creating virtual humans who can learn and react in real-time. These life-like, emotionally responsive digital humans have personality and character and can literally talk face-to-face and respond to vocal and facial expressions. They have a digital brain that triggers their facial expressions and responses so if a person shows frustration, they read their emotional state and react with empathy.

To create a more humanized, accessible and contextual user experience, a 5G connection is critical to provide the high speed and low latency required to process the data so that the AI assistant can interpret emotions and respond with almost no delay. Think of the millions of different data points humans take in during the course of a conversation – tone, verbal cues, non-verbal cues, etc. Identifying, processing and reacting to each of these stimuli is a complex process. Our brain does this naturally and in a matter of milliseconds. For a virtual person to do this, it requires that same processing bandwidth and speed. Enter 5G.

Soul Machines can make realistic interactive creatures, cartoon characters or digital assistants based on real people. Lia, the digital human the company showed off at the Verizon 5G lab, is based on New Zealand actress, Shushila Takao.

The technology is currently used in the banking and auto industries and the idea is to create digital humans used in industries ranging from retail to entertainment to healthcare. The future may hold virtual versions of your favorite celebrities who can chat with you online and digital healthcare professionals who can diagnose your ailments. Hold on to your hats, 5G is about to make these experiences a reality.

NEWS: AVA – Stevie Awards winner

Autodesk AVA was awarded the silver in this year’s Stevie Awards for Sales & Customer Service in the ‘Innovation in the Customer Service – Computer Industries” category.  AVA brings emotional intelligence and a new level of understanding to chatbots and creates a more seamless and timely experience for every customer.

The Stevie Awards for Sales & Customer Service recognises the achievements of contact center, customer service, business development and sales professionals worldwide. The Stevie Awards newsletter has 30k subscribers, while their Facebook and Twitter pages have around 20k followers.

PRESS: Is NZ lagging behind in AI implementation? PwC survey results suggests so

‘Are Kiwi business leaders taking an ostrich-like approach with AI and keeping their heads in the sand?’

ARTICLE BY Divina Paredes AS FEATURED ON cio new zealand | FEBRUARY 25, 2019


“There is a danger that New Zealand businesses get left behind as these technologies completely change the way we work”

— Mark Averill, PwC New Zealand

New Zealand CEOs see the transformative power of AI but are not rushing to implement it.

Results of the PwC New Zealand’s 22nd annual CEO survey found majority of respondents – 84 per cent – believe AI will transform their businesses within the next five years.

This is similar to their global and Australian counterparts – and 67 per cent  think it will have a larger impact on the world than the internet.

Yet, 30 per cent have no current plans to pursue any AI initiatives and 39 per cent said they have plans to implement it in the next three years. 

No New Zealand CEOs indicated AI was already present on a wide scale in their organisations or see it as fundamental to their businesses, reports PwC. 

In the survey, AI or artificial intelligence, is a collective term for computer systems that can sense their environment, think, learn, and take action in response. Forms of AI include digital assistants, chatbots, and machine learning. 

PwC says the report is based on 1,378 interviews with CEOs in 91 countries including New Zealand between September and October 2018.  The global survey was released last month at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

When it comes to the impact of AI on jobs, 46 per cent of New Zealand CEOs believe it will displace more jobs than it creates. CEOs are similarly pessimistic globally (49 per cent) and in Australia (47 per cent). 

Given these concerns, PwC says it was not surprising a sizeable number (74 per cent combining ‘strongly agree’ and ‘agree’) of New Zealand CEOs think governments should develop a national strategy and policies for AI and the possible impact it might have on communities. 

“I don’t buy into the hysteria that the robots are coming and they are going to steal our jobs,” says Greg Cross, co-founder and chief business officer at Soul Machines™. 

The reality is that the job market constantly evolves and the skills people need to find work change, says Cross, one of the NZ executives interviewed for the PwC report. 

He cites that Soul Machines™ currently has just over 90 people in their  offices in Auckland, Melbourne, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York and London. 

He says Soul Machines™ hired 40 people in the last 12 months. 

“We expect to almost double in size over the next year and this will be driven by finding expertise in offshore markets – we are running out of the talent we need in New Zealand.” 

He expresses concern, however, about the local technology industry. 

“There is too much focus on commodity technology and services and not enough emphasis on deep science or research (‘with a capital R’),” Cross was quoted as saying in the PwC report.

An ostrich-like approach?

Cross points out one of his major concerns is that too many NZ CEOs “are taking an ostrich-like approach with AI and keeping their heads in the sand”. 

“Adoption rates are way too slow here and it’s not something we take seriously enough,” says Cross. 

He says the world is moving to the fourth industrial era where machines will become a bigger part of people’s lives. 

“Within the next two to three years we will have the ability to produce high fidelity versions of ourselves. Our approach is that machines need to become more like us. By humanising technology in this way people will come to trust it more. 

“We see the future as being about how machines can deliver services that companies don’t currently have the money to provide. Machines can deliver personalised customer experience and knowledge to everyone cost effectively.” 

Commenting on the local implications of the global survey, Mark Averill, CEO and senior partner at PwC New Zealand, says, “There is a clear divide in CEOs’ belief in the ability of AI to change how we work and the level at which it’s being implemented.”

“There is a danger that New Zealand businesses get left behind as these technologies completely change the way we work.”

“The concern about AI’s impact on the workforce is understandable but I see it as more of an evolution than a revolution giving people the chance to upskill as we learn to work with new technology,” he concludes.


PRESS: Virtual banks ‘to dominate future banking sector’

Article by Abdulaziz Khattak as featured on Trade Arabia | February 22, 2019

The near and distant future of the financial world in general and banking in particular was showcased at the third Middle East and Africa FinTech Forum, which saw industry experts from around the world speak to hundreds of delegates on trending topics such as financial inclusion, open banking, and artificial intelligence (AI) among others, writes Abdulaziz Khattak for Trade Arabia.

The forum was this year hosted by Bank ABC and Arab Financial Services (AFS) under the theme “Banking – Beyond Disruption.”

Officials from the Central Banks of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, UAE, Oman, Jordan, Egypt, Libya and Tunisia attended along with senior representatives from the Mena region’s banking, finance, telecom and tech industries.

Moderated by Aaron Heslehurst, host of BBC World News programme Talking Business, the conference started with a speech by Sophia – the world’s most famous social humanoid robot – on the potential of FinTech and AI’s contribution to the development of society.

Sael AI Waary, the Deputy Group CEO of Bank ABC and AFS Chairman then spoke about the current state of FinTech and even made predictions for the future.

Al Wary specifically highlighted the potential impact of FinTech on corporate banking, which has till now been overlooked.

He also unveiled Fatema, Bank ABC’s and the region’s first emotionally-intelligent digital employee. Built by New Zealand-based Soul Machines, Fatema engages with customers using cutting-edge digital neurology and AI.

Overall, AI Waary said digital banking would greatly reduce the cost of banking services but will improve their quality.

This was followed by Heslehurst’s discussion with the Central Bank of Bahrain (CBB) Governor Rasheed AI Maraj, who stressed that CBB is not only a regulator but an enabler of innovation and advancement in banking.
Al Rasheed emphasised that a practical approach was needed to find the right balance between enabling innovation and protecting the financial system.

Next off was Brett King, author of Amazon best-seller Bank 4.0 and host of a top-ranked FinTech podcast in the world, Breaking Banks.

Tracing the advancements banking had gone through – from Bank 1.0 until Bank 4.0 – he said there had been radical changes in the industry with much more to come.

King said last year in China alone, more than $22 trillion worth of transactions were made in mobile payments.


soul machines™ photo gallery of the Middle East and Africa FinTech Forum

© Soul Machines™


“Outside the main conference hall, an exhibition hosted a range of stalls from Bank ABC, AFS, and guests such as MasterCard, Backbase and the Central Bank of Bahrain. These stalls showcased innovative financial technology products, giving visitors the opportunity to see the latest in wearable payment tech, mobile applications, and other developments. The most exciting part of the exhibition was the public debut of ‘Fatema’, who is the region’s first ever emotionally-intelligent ‘digital employee’. Built by New Zealand-based Soul Machines™ for Bank ABC, ‘Fatema’ appears as an on-screen employee and uses cutting edge digital neurology and artificial intelligence to emotionally engage with customers. She is capable of engaging in natural conversation with customers, measuring emotions and expressing emotions of her own in return. Visitors to the exhibition were able to speak with her and ask her questions on specific Bank ABC products and services. In future when she is more widely available online, however, she will be able to respond to a wider range of queries about Bank ABC and its services.”

— Press Release – Bank ABC

PRESS: The robots are coming – can we be friends with them?

Article by Katie Kenny as featured on Stuff | January 28, 2019

 Kiwi company Soul Machines is creating digital humans powered by biologically inspired models of the brain. Kiwi company Soul Machines™ is creating digital humans powered by biologically inspired models of the brain.

We were trying to get in touch with our internet service provider. I can’t remember the reason. But we contacted the company through its website chat system.

My partner was typing, and I noticed his language was unusually clipped, devoid of the words “please”, or “thank you”.

“You don’t have to be so rude,” I said.

“It’s just a bot,” he replied, shrugging.

I took a closer look at the conversation. “No, that’s not a bot. You’re talking to a real person.”

The speed, and humanity, of the responses were beyond the capabilities of common virtual assistants, I thought.

So we asked the woman at the other end about the weather, and what she did at the weekend. Her replies confirmed my suspicion. She sounded like a person used to getting hassled in this online role, wanting to end the conversation quickly.

Our uncertainty felt like a very 2019 thing. Voice-controlled artificial intelligence systems, and even robots, have become more common in our everyday lives; from Siri, Apple’s “intelligent personal assistant”, to WoeBot, the chatbot therapist, to Travelmate, the suitcase that uses GPS to stay close to your connected smartphone.

As they proliferate, how should we properly address, and relate, to these virtual beings?

IBM distinguished designer Adam Cutler, at AI-Day in Auckland last year, said society is shifting from “a transactional age of computing, to a relationship age”.

Eventually, people will want to date their AI operating systems, he said, alluding to Spike Jonze’s 2013 film, Her, about a man who falls in love with his operating system.

“Why? Pathetic fallacy. We, as humans, want to attribute human feelings to inanimate objects. We want to form relationships.”

In his TED talk, Cutler adds: “For the past 72 years, we’ve been communicating with computers on their terms. All of the user interfaces we’re surrounded by are nothing more than elaborate workarounds for us to share our intent with a computer.

“Today, we’re right on the cusp of an evolution in our relationships with humans and machines. These machines aren’t programmed, they’re taught. This means a machine can understand, reason, learn and interact and these are the very building blocks of what a machine needs to form and maintain a relationship with a human.”

One way to foster that relationship is for the AI to look, well, human, says Greg Cross, chief business officer at Soul Machines™.

“With the technology that’s being developed, we’re going to spend more time interacting with machines. At Soul Machines™ we’ve got a simple vision: aren’t machines going to be more helpful to us, if they’re more like us?”

 Greg Cross, Soul Machines' chief business officer, believes by adding human-like faces to AI systems, such as Greg Cross, Soul Machines™’ chief business officer, believes by adding human-like faces to AI systems, such as “Rachel”, behind him, consumers will more readily interact with them

The Auckland-based company is known around the world for its creation of “digital humans” — autonomous, animated individuals that look and sound like real people, powered by virtual central nervous systems.

These digital humans have been employed at banks, airlines, education and healthcare services.

“We believe by adding a face to AI, we’re actually allowing large organisations to provide a much more personalised customer experience,” Cross says. Pilots with digital humans at NatWest branches in the United Kingdom and at Air New Zealand showed consumers were “quite happy” to interact and even form emotional relationships with them.

However, he adds, the aim of digital humans isn’t to replace traditional customer service staff. “The simple reality is there will always be customers who have problems which are very complex, and having resources available to provide real human interaction will be required as well.”

PRESS: Media coverage on Soul Machines™ Digital DNA™ launch

Read all the latest media coverage here.

Soul Machines launches Digital DNAplatform for lifelike virtual assistants

Soul Machines™ has produced a number of what it calls “digital humans” such as a lifelike avatar baby and assistants for customers like Mercedes-Benz, Royal Bank of Scotland, and Autodesk, which commissioned its customer service agent Ava.

Soul machineslaunches digital DNA

Soul Machines™ says over the past four years, it has been capturing the digital DNA™ – which includes intelligence and physical characteristics – from each digital human it has created to construct a virtual gene pool.

HOT OFF THE PRESS: Soul Machines™ launches Digital DNA™, a critical component in the future of Customer Experience

Digital Gene Pool Makes It Easy to Produce Highly Realistic Digital Humans in Minutes

Media Release | December 13, 2018 

 

 

Soul Machines™, a ground-breaking company re-imagining how humans connect with machines, is launching Digital DNA™ to give brands the ability to create and deploy a diverse range of highly realistic digital humans.

The future of customer experience is being driven by the democratization of personal service and the delivery of specialized knowledge and Artificial Intelligence is a great platform for delivering this specialized knowledge. Soul Machines™ personalizes customer experience through face-to-face interactions with its lifelike digital humans and its unique ability to create engaging customer connections based on the emotional responsiveness of Soul Machines™’ Human Computing Engine™, which works like a virtual nervous system.

Soul Machines™ has already set new industry standards with lifelike digital humans built for some of the most innovative brands today including Autodesk, Mercedes Benz, Royal Bank of Scotland and ANZ Bank. Soul Machines™ is able to autonomously animate each digital human in real-time by synthesizing human behavior, setting itself far ahead in in the industry with a combination of the most realistic digital humans and the most advanced real-time animation in the world. Soul Machines™’ digital humans continue to become more advanced over time with their patented cognitive models learning from each user interaction in the same way humans learn.

Production time for Soul Machines™’ digital humans is already among the lowest in the industry, taking two to three months. Now, with Digital DNA™, individuals and companies can create unlimited numbers of digital humans to better serve and support their customers, fans and prospects online. Using Digital DNA™, companies can determine the color of eyes, shape of face, hair and skin color, age and even determine how many wrinkles and skin blemishes to show.

“The process of creating lifelike digital humans is time-intensive. Just look at the video game or movie industry where new releases take years to complete and huge investments,” said Greg Cross, Chief Business Officer, Soul Machines™. “We are proud to be making Soul Machines™ Digital DNA™ technology available to companies so they can supercharge their online customer experiences in a high-quality way in a short amount of time.”

“Recently, we have seen brands release avatars and digital humans that are clunky, ugly and embarrassing they look like the digital equivalent old fashioned puppets without the strings,” added Cross. “Why would you invest so heavily in the future of AI and create a terrible customer experience. We understand that it can be complex to deploy a digital human but no company should settle for less than perfection because their customers will not buy it or engage with it.”

How Was Digital DNA™ Formed

The intelligence of digital humans comes from the one-of-a-kind innovative process that uses neural networks to combine biologically inspired models of the human brain and key sensory networks. Together they create a virtual central nervous system called the Human Computing Engine™. The digital human comes to life when you “plug” the engaging and interactive artificial humans into the cloud-based Human Computing Engine™ and the result is an emotionally responsive, artificial human with personality and character that allows machines to talk to humans face-to-face.

The models of the 3D faces Soul Machines™ creates are as close to the real thing as possible and are an important instrument of emotional expression and engagement between people. Soul Machines™ models the face in detail, from the way the facial muscles create complex expressions all the way through the eyes that react to images relayed by a computer camera.

Digital DNA™ has been created and captured over the last four years through the numerous Soul Machines™ created digital humans, including their intelligence and physical characteristics. The company has captured this digital DNA™ from each digital human it has created to construct a virtual gene pool. This gene pool is used to synthesize new digital humans by blending Digital DNA™ together. This allows Soul Machines™ to create a completely new digital human in minutes versus the months it previously took.

Digital DNA™ is also changing the model for licensing the digital likeness of real humans.

PRESS: “The success of today will be gone if you don’t transform” says Daimler Financial Services CIO

Article as featured on informationweek | december 6, 2018

Daimler Financial Services CIO Says: Don’t Get Comfortable

Daimler Financial Services CIO Udo Neumann says you may be successful today, but unless you transform and innovate, that success will be gone.

The economy is strong, your IT department is humming along, and you’ve invested in some value-creating programs. Everything looks good, right?

But here’s some advice for 2019. Don’t get comfortable. The comfort zone is a danger zone. That’s according to Udo Neumann, Global CIO at Daimler Financial Services, the financial services provider of Mercades Benz automaker Daimler AG.

Neumann’s organization has taken some risks over the past few years, and he shared a few of them, along with some other tips, with CIOs and other IT professionals at the recent Gartner Symposium event in Orlando, Florida.

 Udo Neumann (Image: Daimler) Udo Neumann (Image: Daimler)

Take risks. That may be a hard message for sometimes risk-averse IT professionals, but it’s a timely one for the current business and IT environment, where markets are disrupted and innovation keeps accelerating at what seems like an exponential pace. Hesitate and you may lose your opportunity. Stop to consider your options for too long and your competitors or a previously unknown startup may sneak in and take your market share.

Neumann said that it is essential for IT organizations to get out of the comfort zone, to take risks, to fail, to learn, and then to pivot. But just because you take risks and fail doesn’t mean you don’t learn from your lessons.

“But don’t make the same mistake three or four times,” he said. “That’s not what failing means.”

Neumann has spent two and a half years as global CIO for Daimler Financial Services, and has worked in other senior IT positions around the world for Daimler companies before that.

A key component for success is people and culture, he said, and at Daimler, he has created the concept of “swarms,” virtual global teams that pull from different functions and geographies that come together based on “capabilities and passion,” he said.

“We give them a problem and we give them the freedom,” Neumann said. The swarm work becomes their full-time job for that period of time. “It’s not in the evening from 5 to 7, and it’s not as an extra task.”

Headless content delivery is seeing rapid adoption as a way to manage digital experiences across the ever-expanding number of channels customers interact with.

Here’s one example — blockchain. There’s so much buzz about this distributed ledger system in the last year, yet organizations don’t always know what sort of problems blockchain can solve. That’s a perfect place to send a swarm. Neumann said that swarms can analyze the technology to determine what it can do, what use cases make sense, where the technology will work and where it won’t work. The swarm created a Blockchain Factory within the company that is working on the right ways to apply blockchain within Daimler Financial Services.

 Image: Pixabay Image: Pixabay

Disrupt yourself

Neumann said another way to take the risks needed to stay ahead is to disrupt yourself. He said the company sent six people to a lab in Southern California and told them to be creative and disrupt the company’s business model.

“Why? Because if you don’t do it then somebody else may do it,” he said. The small team created a small company called AutoGravity that created an app (and a small company) to help consumers shop for cars and car loans.  Today there are 200 people at that office in California, Neumann said.

Artificial intelligence

More recently, Daimler made a strategic investment in a company called Soul Machines™, a New Zealand-based firm that is working on the combined use of artificial and emotional intelligence. Daimler and Soul Machines™ first debuted what they call a digital avatar named Sarah in February, and since then “she” has answered frequently asked customer questions during an internal pilot at one of the company’s call centers in the US, according to Daimler. Daimler Financial Services plans to use the technology to continue to “support customers like a personal concierge,” the company said in a statement announcing the investment.

Neumann said, “After successfully testing how artificial intelligence helps our employees better service customers, we are now investing in a disruptive technology to further enhance the customer experience.”

Neumann believes that CIOs need to define their vision and disrupt their own businesses.

“The success of today will be gone if you don’t transform,” he said.

PRESS: Robots will probably help care for you when you’re old

 

Article by Corinne Purtill | Excerpt from QUARTZ | 12 SEPTEMBER 2018

Among the symptoms of dementia is a phenomenon called “sundowners syndrome”: an increase in agitation, confusion, and anxiety as late afternoon transitions to evening. Its cause isn’t well understood; circadian rhythm disruptions precipitated by the change in light, anxiety over end-of-day activity, and hormonal fluctuations have all been floated as theories. Whatever the trigger, sundowners can make otherwise amiable people combative and even violent, a frightening and unsettling experience for patients and caregivers alike.

Staff in hospitals and nursing homes typically treat the symptoms with sedative drugs. But in recent years, facilities from Japan to the US have turned instead to a specialist: a robot baby seal named Paro.

Paro spent a decade in development at Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology. The robot seal came to market in 2004 and is now in use in many parts of Asia, Europe, and North America to offer the psychological benefits of pet therapy in situations where a real animal isn’t practical…


To a person in normal cognitive health, Paro is unmistakably a machine. A soft mechanical sound accompanies its motions; up close, you can see its whiskers have tiny sensors on the ends. Given the comfort it brings to people suffering a dreadful disease, insisting that patients recognize its artificiality seems cold and beside the point.

But you don’t have to peer very far into the future to see the possibility of interactions in which it will be difficult even for a person with their full cognitive facilities to tell the difference between robots and reality.

The Auckland, New Zealand-based tech company Soul Machines™ creates AI interfaces that look uncannily like high-definition video chats with a real human being. It doesn’t quite pass the Turing Test, but it’s easy to imagine a situation in which someone with limited eyesight or cognitive disabilities believes they’re having a human conversation when talking to a robot like “Ava.”

 

 

Or “Sarah.”

 

 

Or this baby.

 

 

Soul Machines™ licenses its user interface technology to businesses and institutions. Its technology has powered digital assistants for banks, airlines, and software companies, as well as a prototype virtual assistant, voiced by the actor Cate Blanchett, that was designed to help people with disabilities navigate Australia’s public benefits system. (That program was shelved, not long after the Australian government’s disastrous introduction of an automated system to detect welfare fraud drew public outcry.) Soul Machines™ has discussed services for the elderly with prospective clients but has not announced any partnerships on that subject to date, says chief business officer Greg Cross.

Soul Machines™ envisions a future in which digital instructors educate students without access to quality human teachers, and in which famous deceased artists are digitally resurrected to discuss their works in museums. Robot companions for the infirm, then, are not too far a leap. Nor is the prospect of a future in which a family converses with the lively AI recreation of a person suffering from dementia, while a caregiver—robot or human—tends to their ailing body in another room.

 

HOT OFF THE PRESS: What We Have to Gain From Making Machines More Human

ARTICLE BY MARC PROSSER | SINGULARITY HUB | 11 SEPTEMBER 2018

The borders between the real world and the digital world keep crumbling, and the latter’s importance in both our personal and professional lives keeps growing. Some describe the melding of virtual and real worlds as part of the fourth industrial revolution. Said revolution’s full impact on us as individuals, our companies, communities, and societies is still unknown.

Greg Cross, chief business officer of New Zealand-based AI company Soul Machines™, thinks one inescapable consequence of these crumbling borders is people spending more and more time interacting with technology. In a presentation at Singularity University’s Global Summit in San Francisco last month, Cross unveiled Soul Machines™’ latest work and shared his views on the current state of human-like AI and where the technology may go in the near future.

Humanizing Technology Interaction

Cross started by introducing Rachel, one of Soul Machines™’ “emotionally responsive digital humans.” The company has built 15 different digital humans of various sexes, groups, and ethnicities. Rachel, along with her “sisters” and “brothers,” has a virtual nervous system based on neural networks and biological models of different paths in the human brain. The system is controlled by virtual neurotransmitters and hormones akin to dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin, which influence learning and behavior.

As a result, each digital human can have its own unique set of “feelings” and responses to interactions. People interact with them via visual and audio sensors, and the machines respond in real time.

“Over the last 20 or 30 years, the way we think about machines and the way we interact with machines has changed,” Cross said. “We’ve always had this view that they should actually be more human-like.”

The realism of the digital humans’ graphic representations comes thanks to the work of Soul Machines™’ other co-founder, Dr. Mark Sagar, who has won two Academy Awards for his work on some computer-generated movies, including James Cameron’s Avatar.

Cross pointed out, for example, that rather than being unrealistically flawless and clear, Rachel’s skin has blemishes and sun spots, just like real human skin would.

The Next Human-Machine Frontier

When people interact with each other face to face, emotional and intellectual engagement both heavily influence the interaction. What would it look like for machines to bring those same emotional and intellectual capacities to our interactions with them, and how would this type of interaction affect the way we use, relate to, and feel about AI?

Cross and his colleagues believe that humanizing artificial intelligence will make the technology more useful to humanity, and prompt people to use AI in more beneficial ways.

“What we think is a very important view as we move forward is that these machines can be more helpful to us. They can be more useful to us. They can be more interesting to us if they’re actually more like us,” Cross said.

It is an approach that seems to resonate with companies and organizations. For example, in the UK, where NatWest Bank is testing out Cora as a digital employee to help answer customer queries. In Germany, Daimler Financial Group plans to employ Sarah as something “similar to a personal concierge” for its customers. According to Cross, Daimler is looking at other ways it could deploy digital humans across the organization, from building digital service people, digital sales people, and maybe in the future, digital chauffeurs.

Soul Machines™’ latest creation is Will, a digital teacher that can interact with children through a desktop, tablet, or mobile device and help them learn about renewable energy. Cross sees other social uses for digital humans, including potentially serving as doctors to rural communities.

Our Digital Friends—and Twins

Soul Machines™ is not alone in its quest to humanize technology. It is a direction many technology companies, including the likes of Amazon, also seem to be pursuing. Amazon is working on building a home robot that, according to Bloomberg, “could be a sort of mobile Alexa.

Finding a more human form for technology seems like a particularly pervasive pursuit in Japan. Not just when it comes to its many, many robots, but also virtual assistants like Gatebox.

The Japanese approach was perhaps best summed up by famous android researcher Dr. Hiroshi Ishiguro, who I interviewed last year: “The human brain is set up to recognize and interact with humans. So, it makes sense to focus on developing the body for the AI mind, as well as the AI. I believe that the final goal for both Japanese and other companies and scientists is to create human-like interaction.”

During Cross’s presentation, Rob Nail, CEO and associate founder of Singularity University, joined him on the stage, extending an invitation to Rachel to be SU’s first fully digital faculty member. Rachel accepted, and though she’s the only digital faculty right now, she predicted this won’t be the case for long.

“In 10 years, all of you will have digital versions of yourself, just like me, to take on specific tasks and make your life a whole lot easier,” she said. “This is great news for me. I’ll have millions of digital friends.”

AI – are humans obsolete?

 

Article by Andrew Cornell | Excerpt from ANZ bluenotes | 13 SEPTEMBER 2018

Dystopia or Utopia? Will robots be our – willing – slaves or overlords? Actually, what is ‘artificial intelligence? We may not realise how pervasive it is already.

We spoke to an AI scientist, a digital human creator, a venture capitalist, an ex-Google banker and an economist about their experience with and expectations for AI in the future.

For further discussion points, see the video below.


Greg Cross – Chief Business Officer & Co-Founder, Soul Machines

At Soul Machines™, we’ve gone beyond what Hollywood is doing with the quality of the digital characters they are producing. What’s really interesting is the way we bring them to life by taking away actors and cameras which have traditionally been used to bring computer generated characters to life.

We’ve automated these characters by giving them a brain and creating a system which enables them to respond, interact and engage with us in exactly the same way we engage with each other.

But at what point does this digital character become engaging to the humans that they’re interacting with? At what point can we relate to them? At what point can we learn to trust them?

In very simple terms by putting a face on artificial intelligence we’re trying to create a platform where people can develop trust in machines.

Building trust between humans and machines is going to be a really critical part of the way we use our systems in the next 10, 20 or 30 years.


 

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.