PRESS: New partnership with Daimler Financial Services

Soul Machines™ Builds Enterprise Traction, Signs Marquee Deals in Its Quest to Humanize Artificial Intelligence

Newest Partnership with Daimler Financial Services Underscores Demand for Digital Humans to Modernize Customer Service

Announced at Mobile World Congress 2018 – Soul Machines has entered into a new partnership with Daimler Financial Services to create Sarah, a digital human designed to help customers with personalized assistance for the company’s services, including car financing, leasing and insurance.

BARCELONA, Spain, Feb. 26, 2018 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Soul Machines™, a developer of the world’s first Virtual Nervous System which brings intelligent, emotionally responsive digital humans “to life,” today announced that it has entered into a new partnership with Daimler Financial Services. This week, at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the two companies will demo Sarah, a digital human designed to help Daimler Financial Services customers with personalized assistance for the company’s services, including car financing, leasing and insurance.

Sarah combines artificial and emotional intelligence for a completely new experience which redefines the link between man and machine. She will be able to assist customers similar to a personal concierge, with the goal of offering the right information at the right time with a convenient and emotionally intelligent, digital touchpoint.

As the finance and mobility portfolio of car manufacturers becomes increasingly complex, the challenge to meet the individual wishes of customers is growing. Different from regular voice assistants, Sarah will be able in the future to recognize non-verbal behavior in real time using face recognition based on Soul Machines™’ technology.

We have a fundamental belief that in the age of artificial intelligence we are entering, machines can be more useful if they are more like us,” said Greg Cross, chief business officer at Soul Machines™. “Businesses today risk losing customers through impersonal online experiences. We’re thrilled to partner with leading companies like Daimler Financial Services based on a mutual belief that the future of highly-personalized, successful customer experiences is rooted in human-like interactions powered by technologies like artificial intelligence.”

“We meet this challenge with a unique combination of artificial and emotional intelligence,” added Udo Neumann, Chief Information Officer at Daimler Financial Services. “A digital human like Sarah serves as the interface in our financial services and mobility ecosystem, enabling us to deliver an unprecedented customer experience in the near future.”

This latest partnership builds on a growing number of agreements that Soul Machines™ has recently announced. In November 2017, the company announced a partnership with Autodesk, the software maker for people who make things, for AVA. AVA is Autodesk’s digital human that provides customers access to a service agent 24/7— answering questions, directing them to content and completing transactions.

Earlier this month, Royal Bank of Scotland’s, NatWest Bank, a large retail and commercial bank in the United Kingdom, also announced that it has been working with Soul Machines™ on a pilot for Cora, its customer service digital human. Already in advanced testing, Cora is having more than 100,000 conversations per month.

Each of these customer solutions are built on top of IBM Watson to provide a customer experience that goes way beyond the traditional AI user interface of chatbots and voice assistants.

 

PRESS: NatWest begins testing AI driven ‘digital human’ in banking first

Royal Bank of Scotland Press Release: 22 February 2018

 Cora - digital human for Natwest bank UK. Cora – digital human for Natwest bank UK.

NatWest has today announced that it’s in advanced testing of an AI powered ‘digital human’, which could in future be used as an additional way for customers to get answers to basic banking queries. The bank has since the start of 2017 deployed a text-based chat bot called ‘Cora’ which customers can use on the bank’s online help pages that answers 200 basic banking queries and now has 100,000 conversations a month. But drawing upon advances in neuroscience, psychology, computing power and artificial intelligence, a new Cora prototype has been built to include a highly life-like digital human that people can have a two-way verbal conversation with on a computer screen, tablet or mobile phone.

Cora the digital human is able to answer basic verbal questions like “How do I login to online banking?”, “How do I apply for a mortgage?” and “What do I do if I lose my card?” It could serve as an additional way for customers to get help on top of the usual branch, telephone and online services and in the long run could answer hundreds of everyday banking questions. The technology relies on using audio and visual sensors, which are standard in modern computers and mobile phones.

NatWest have been building the Cora digital human using technology provided by New Zealand based company Soul Machines™, whose co-founder and CEO, Mark Sagar, won awards for his ground-breaking facial technology in King Kong and Avatar. Soul Machines™ uses biologically inspired models of the human brain and neural networks to create a virtual nervous system for their digital humans that can detect human emotion and react verbally as well as physically, through facial expressions. Like humans, it is trained when dealing with new subject matter and when she makes mistakes she learns, so that over time the interactions become more and more accurate.

Whilst NatWest will only deploy the technology if it successfully completes a pilot, it is thought it could be used to help free up time for human advisors to answer more complex customer questions and could also be used to answer queries which fall outside normal working hours and days. Testing to date has suggested customers that have avoided digital services in the past may be more inclined to interact with digital humans like Cora and it could help blind and partially sighted customers who are unable to engage with visual content.

Commenting, Kevin Hanley, Director of Innovation at NatWest said:

“We’re really excited about this technology because we think it could create another way for our customers to bank with us on top of the usual services we offer and be used to help answer questions round the clock, whilst cutting queuing times for simple questions. The technology has real potential for the future and we’re also looking at how we can use it to help train our staff on certain subject matters.”

Commenting, Greg Cross, Chief Business Officer, from Soul Machinessaid:

“NatWest has been at the forefront of technology vision and advancement for years and using Soul Machines™ to reimagine their customer experience sets them apart and continues to show the bank’s leadership in engaging and providing the highest level of service for their customers. We are honoured to be working with NatWest on this pilot to evolve Cora into an emotionally responsive digital human that can interact face-to-face with its many customers.”

 

SOUL MACHINES™ BLOG: Sparking a Transformative Reaction in the Digital Age

A reaction is a transformation from one thing to another. Whether on a chemical level as the result of mixing elements together to create a new substance or on a human level as something done or felt in response to a situation or event: a reaction is a vital component of adaption and change in the world.

A reaction couldn’t be more pertinent than now in the digital age, as we remodel technology to revolutionize human society.  But, in order to spark this transformative reaction, a number of key elements are required.

Element #1:  Curiosity

Throughout history, humankind has shown a real taste for curiosity. Inquisitive thinking has been the driving force behind so many achievements, stoking our desire to explore & investigate in the pursuit of knowledge.   This questioning of the world around us helps cultivate massive shifts in our thinking and approach to the unknown. From the curious minds of the great explorers like Magellan circumnavigating the earth or great scientists like Einstein developing his theory of relativity, curiosity is what challenges the rulebook pushing the mind to explore uncharted territory.

In this digital revolution, it is curiosity that drives today’s thinkers, scientists and pacesetters to re-imagine the possibilities of leading-edge technology.

 

Element #2: Creativity

From curiosity comes creativity, that inspiring phenomenon where the mind flicks on its insightful lightbulb cultivating new and invaluable ideas.

Creativity can be intangible like a scientific theory or take on a more physical form like a piece of art or an invention.  Either way, creativity is the place where ideas are incubated as we borrow, bend and break previous concepts only to reconstruct them in new, more exciting ways;  and the digital era is the ideal environment for enhancing creativity.

“As we become a more technological society, we also become a more creative society, because many of the rote tasks that used to take up a lot of our time and effort have become automated.”    How Technology Enhances Creativity   

Once the idea has been germinated it needs to be implemented which leads us to element number three – Innovation.

Element #3:  Innovation

Innovation is about applying ground-breaking ideas that will re-shape our modern world for the better.  X-Ray made the invisible visible, electricity brightened-up our planet and cameras captured moments forever. Inventions have transformed life as we know it.

As we look out across the digital landscape, it is human innovation that will keep this momentum flowing by bringing about more-effective solutions to how we use technology making the entire process more personalized and relatable.

 

The Transformative Reaction

So – combining curiosity, creativity and innovation sparks a transformative reaction. 

Just like when a child sees snow for the first time, when people witness ground-breaking technology there is a golden moment of astonishment, of awe, of surprise and excitement which awakens the mind to something new. This is what Soul Machines™ strives for, to make the magic real, as we reinvent how humans communicate with technology.

We need to be explorers again. Engage with our curious minds to generate ideas and implement them. We invite you on the adventure with us. Exploration was never easy but without it, we will never move forward and break new boundaries.


OUR DIGITAL HUMAN RACHEL EXPLAINS HOW SHE CAN BEHAVE IN A MORE HUMAN-LIKE WAY

EVENT: Greg Cross will at “Davos Gathering of Minds” on January 24th

From article published by Global News Wire, January 18, 2018

WISeKey International Holding Ltd (“WISeKey”, SIX: WIHN), a leading cybersecurity and IoT company announced that The TransHumanCode.com is the first interactive “knowledge platform” for managing the convergence of humanity and technology, its impact on our daily lives, and the long-term implications. This dynamic initiative will be introduced on January 24 in Davos, Switzerland during the world’s foremost assembly of international leaders. 

In an innovative multi-media program, informing and engaging all citizens of the world about the dynamic influences of technology in our personal, communal and professional lives, The TransHuman Code was formed to redefine the hierarchy of our needs and how we will meet them in the future.

Originated by Swiss cybersecurity pioneer, WISeKey and authored by Carlos Moreira and David Fergusson, The TransHuman Code will feature exclusive insights from the world’s premier authorities on the application of AI, Blockchain, Cybersecurity, IoT, and Robotics to transhuman.education, employment, communication, transportation, communities, security, government, food, finance, entertainment and health.

“The TransHuman Code Davos Gathering of Minds” hosted by CBS Inside Edition Host Megan Alexander, will bring together global leaders in technology, business, finance, government, academia and the media for this exclusive event. Highlights include the introduction of the world’s first digital person and the first autonomous flying “taxi”, live expert interviews and exclusive high-level discussion and debate amongst the platform contributors.

Participants will be amongst the first in the world to meet Rachel, the revolutionary Digital Personal Assistant from Soul Machines and IBM Watson. Able to see you, listen to you and feel your emotions, Rachel’s neural network combines biologically inspired models of the human brain and key sensory networks to create a Human Computing Engine.

Vimana has created the world’s first autonomous aerial vehicle for transporting people and payload. With vertical takeoff and landing capability, the Vimana platform, combines IOT, AI and Blockchain and is already in the air bringing the future travel to the market today.

The “Davos Gathering of Minds” launch, led by Mr. Moreira and Mr. Fergusson, will feature live interviews with Megan Alexander and moderated discussion amongst the assembled leading experts including:

Alex Pentland |Director, MIT Connection Services and Human Dynamics Lab
Evgeni Borisov | Founder and CEO, Vimana Global
Salim Ismail | Author, Exponential Organizations (Founding CEO, Singularity University)
Greg Cross | Chief Business Officer, Soul Machines™ 
Rachel | The World’s First Digital Person
Shantenu Agarwal | Director, IBM Watson
Rodrigo Arboleda | Chairman, Fast Track Institute

Beyond the launch, The TransHuman Code initiative will facilitate important conversations, provide access to the latest scientific knowledge and discoveries, and offer rare access to key people and places at the forefront of our TransHuman future. Subject matter experts will engage and inform the global citizenry in thoughtful dialogue regarding the dynamic interplay between humanity and ever-evolving technology. It will help us to better understand the merger of man and machine in our personal, communal, and professional existence, and challenge us to confront the application of technology to the infrastructure of our lives.  This is The TransHuman Code at work.

To learn more about The TransHuman Code Launch event, visit: www.transhumancode.com.  

PRESS: Beyond the Hype – Humanizing AI

Video published by Bluewolf

“AI is designed to provide experiences that feel more human. But what if it could look more human too? That’s a question for Soul Machines™, a New Zealand company creating human-like 3D avatars powered by IBM Watson. And its Director of Business Development, Shaun Paga, has some answers.”

Dreamforce is Salesforce’s massive tech conference of four high-energy days of learning, innovation, fun, giving back and creating equality for all. Shaun Paga of Soul Machines™ was there and this interview was filmed at the event.

 

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.

For the full story click here

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.

For the full story click here

CMO: How virtual humans could transform the brand experience

The rise of artificial intelligence is bringing with it the advent of a new age of robotic humans. We look at their impact on service and engagement

Excerpt from story by Brad Howarth (CMO) | 28 November 2017

For years, marketers have talked about brands as having personalities. Now they have the tools to bring those brands to life – virtually at least.

Rapid developments in artificial intelligence (AI) are being combined with Academy Award-winning animation skills to create virtual humans that are the closest yet to flesh and blood. And for brands, that offers the opportunity to put a very human-looking face on a corporate body.

One of the latest iterations of these virtual humans comes from Auckland-based company, Soul Machines™, whose co-founder and CEO, Mark Sagar’s ground-breaking work in computer-generated faces on films, King Kong and Avatar, was recognised with consecutive Oscars. Now Soul Machines™ is applying its skills to the commercial world through the creation of virtual humans as the new face of brands.

According to Soul Machines™’ chief business officer, Greg Cross, virtual humans give consumer-facing organisations an opportunity to completely change the economics of highly-personalised service.

“When you interact with one of our virtual humans as a virtual concierge or a virtual customer service agent, it is going to be a highly personalised experience,” Cross says.

“These virtual employees are going to remember you every time you interact with them. They will have built up a profile of your personality, of what products and services you love, and which ones you don’t. They will have knowledge of problems you have had and whether they have been resolved to your satisfaction.

“What that means is we now have the ability to deliver highly personalised service on a very, very large scale using these virtual employees.”

The technology is being trialed at numerous organisations in banking, technology, healthcare, education, and transport. It has also been used to create Sophie, a pilot customer interaction project for Air New Zealand.

“The early customers we are working with really see their first virtual employee as an extension of their brand,” Cross says. “They go through a process of designing their first virtual employee in the same way they would select a celebrity to represent their brand in a television advertisement.”

While the quality of the animations developed by Soul Machines™ is incredibly lifelike, it is the AI model behind its virtual humans that brings them to life. Cross says this is based around mimicking human thought process and brain models.

“Mark [Sagar] asked ‘what if I built biologically-inspired models of different parts of the human brain, and wired all this together into a virtual nervous system?’,” Cross says. “Could we create emotionally responsive, human-like, engaging characters? And that is what we have done.

“As best we know we are the only company in the world that can bring these digital characters to life using a virtual nervous system and neural networks that continuously learn.”

For the full story click here

NEWSHUB: Soul Machines™ develops a Digital Human

Newshub feature by Simon Shepherd | Newshub | 24 November 2017

 To watch the video click here To watch the video click here

Breaking into America is a milestone for any Kiwi start-up and the latest has done it with a digital human.

You may not have heard of this company, but its showreel has everything from buildings to special effects, all designed on its software.

Soul Machines™ makes artificial intelligence ‘human-like’ and one of its creations will be the new face of a global software company.

Autodesk turns over $2 billion, and it’s come to downtown Auckland and Kiwi company Soul Machines™ for the latest in artificial intelligence customer service.

“[It’s] our first big US customers, so that’s always a big milestone for a Kiwi start up,” says Soul Machines™ chief business officer Greg Cross.

Autodesk’s current customer service chatbot will be replaced with Ava.

“Ava is a virtual customer service agent, to bring a whole new level of personalisation and brand experience to that customer experience on a day-to-day basis,” Mr Cross says.

Soul Machines™ digital humans are avatars with a central nervous system that can be mapped to show how they respond.

Soul Machines™ says these machines will be more useful to us and more natural to interact with.

New Zealand’s tech sector is now our third biggest export industry – and Soul Machines™ is now an important part of that growth.

Newshub.

FAST COMPANY: Are you ready for bots to read your face?

Story by Sean Captain | Robot Revolution | Fast Company | 11.15.17

 [Screenshot: Autodesk/SoulMachines] [Screenshot: Autodesk/SoulMachines™]

Would you turn on your webcam so that a customer service robot can get to know you better?

Soul Machines™, a New Zealand startup, thinks so. It builds a customer service bot with an amazingly human face and a simulated nervous system that interprets how customers feel and reacts accordingly—in part by watching them over a webcam. As I reported today, design software maker Autodesk will be the first big client to try out the technology next year—what Soul Machines™ calls a “digital human”—with a remake of its AVA customer service bot. (Below, a video about the creation of AVA.)

While many companies boast about personalized service but can’t afford to hire enough people (and while most existing customer service bots haven’t exactly managed to fill in the gap), Soul Machines™ sees an opportunity for new CGI and AI-driven techniques. AVA’s photorealistic appearance—based on scans and recordings of actress Shushila Takao—is an outgrowth of the work the company’s founder, Mark Sagar, has done as a CGI engineer for Hollywood films like Avatar; her “emotional intelligence,” guiding how she responds to human cues, comes from his AI research simulating a human nervous system in software.

AVA, says Sagar, can read cues in people’s expressions, such as a smile or a furrowed brow, to get a sense of a customer’s disposition. Are they happy and open for pleasant chat, or impatient and wanting to get to the point? Or are they just freaked out by a robot staring at them, reading their expressions and possibly classifying their emotions?

“I think that is going to be the biggest challenge of it,” Gregg Spratto, Autodesk’s VP of operations, told me about the concerns that Autodesk’s privacy-conscious users might have about a face-scanning chatbot. “And I think a lot of our success will be dependent on how we convince people to give that a try.”

AVA also provides a fallback: she’s designed to pick up nuances in people’s voices too. So even with the webcam off, she can still get a better feel, so to speak, for the human she’s talking to.

NATIONAL BUSINESS REVIEW: Soul Machines™ partners with Autodesk to create digital employee

Excerpt from story by Rebecca Howard | NBR |November 16, 2017

Soul machines™, the Auckland-based developer of intelligent, emotionally responsive avatars, has joined forces with 3D design, engineering and entertainment software developer Autodesk to create the US company’s first digital employee.

AVA (Autodesk virtual agent), a virtual customer service agent, will interact with customers 24/7 to resolve any issues. However, unlike Autodesk’s current virtual assistant that is text-based, its virtual nervous system will give AVA the ability to see, hear and respond emotionally, according to Soul Machines™.

“This is where our technology is particularly unique. These digital characters do have a virtual nervous system, using AI technology and models of different parts of the human brain. That’s how we bring them to life in a very human-like way,” said Greg Cross, chief business officer for Soul Machines™ in an interview.

To read the full story click here.

COMPUTERWORLD: Soul Machines™ gives Autodesk chatbot a human face

Soul Machines™ says the humanised AVA will enable customers to get answers to questions direct them to content and enable them to complete transactions

Story by Stuart Corner (Computerworld New Zealand) 16 November 2017

Soul Machines™, a spinout from the University of Auckland Bioengineering Institute, is developing digital human interface to Autodesk’s customer assistance chatbot, the Autodesk Virtual Agent, AVA.

Soul Machines™ says the humanised AVA will enable customers to get answers to questions direct them to content and enable them to complete transactions.

“Soul Machines™ is advancing AVA’s capabilities, with a digital human face and persona that it literally brings AVA to life using [our] world leading Human Computing Engine (HCE),” the company said.

However to take full advantage of humanoid AVA, Autodesk customers wil need to turn on the video on the phone or computer so AVA can see them,

HCE is described as a virtual nervous system that combines neural networks and biologically inspired models of the human brain that will give AVA “the ability to see and hear as well as sensory systems that enable to recognise and respond emotionally in an incredibly human like way.”

Soul Machines™’ CBO Greg Cross said: “Talking to one of our digital humans means you will get the same sort of social responses and non-verbal communication cues as if you were sitting face to face across a table from a real person. It means our customers can deliver highly personalised brand accretive experiences in a way they have not been able to afford to do up till now.”

CEO of Soul Machines™ Dr Mark Sagar said “[Ava] has a virtual nervous system and all kinds of sensory capabilities so she can respond to the user’s behaviour in real time to facilitate the communication.”

For the full story click here

FAST COMPANY: Autodesk’s AVA is built to be a font of empathy

This Chatbot Is Trying Hard To Look And Feel Like Us

 Autodesk's AVA created by Soul Machines Autodesk’s AVA created by Soul Machines™

Modeled on a real person and equipped with a virtual “nervous system,” Autodesk’s AVA is built to be a font of empathy, no matter how mean a customer gets.

For the full story click here

Excerpt from story by Sean Captain | Fast Company | 11.15.17

 

Among the attributes credited for Apple’s famous customer loyalty is a network of stores where curious or frustrated consumers can meet the company face-to-face.

The 3D design software maker Autodesk is trying to achieve something similar online with a help service that allows people to interact with what sure looks like an actual human. The company says that next year it will introduce a new version of its Autodesk Virtual Agent (AVA) avatar, with an exceedingly lifelike face, voice, and set of “emotions” provided by a New Zealand AI and effects startup called Soul Machines™. Born in February as a roughly sketched avatar on a chat interface, AVA’s CGI makeover will turn her into a hyper-detailed, 3D-rendered character–what Soul Machines™ calls a digital human.

The Autodesk deal is Soul Machines™’ first major gig, following a pilot project with the Australia National Disability Insurance Agency from February to September, 2016, and some proof-of-concept demos, like a recent one with Air New Zealand. Greg Cross, Soul Machines™’ chief business officer, says the company is working on eight other projects with “major brand names” but declined to name them.

 The Original AVA The Original AVA

In demonstration videos, the new AVA’s face reacts with all the physiological subtlety of the best Hollywood CGI characters. No wonder, since she’s born of the same technologies. Before founding Soul Machines™ in 2016, engineer Mark Sagar was a movie special effects guru at outfits like Sony Pictures and Peter Jackson’s Weta Digital. He won two Oscars, in 2010 and 2011, for his work creating lifelike CGI facial animation in films including Jackson’s King Kong and James Cameron’s Avatar. Among his achievements was co-developing a system called Light Stage that scans a human face and body in extreme detail, with lighting from multiple angles, in order to create lifelike 3D models.

Hollywood productions may take the scans as a starting point, such as morphing impressions by actor Zoe Saldana into the blue-face Neytiri in Avatar or of Mark Ruffalo into the green-faced Hulk in The Avengers. But Soul Machines™, using additional software that Sagar developed at the University of Auckland, keeps true to the original, retaining even the pink splotches, clogged pores, and errant eyebrow hairs of its human models.

That embracing of flaws may allow digital humans to avoid the “uncanny valley” of creepiness, when a robot looks oh-so-close-to, but not quite, human. Soul Machines™’ imperfect beauty has to be more than skin deep for expressions to be believable, though, with computer modeling of bone structure, muscle twitches, and other subtleties.

Sagar wants to go even deeper. Since leaving cinema, he’s been trying to recreate the human nervous system in software. Analyzing facial expressions to discern a smile, even a subtle one, and analyzing voice to pick up a pleasant tone, Soul Machines™’ software provides a hit of virtual dopamine to AVA’s nervous system. As in a human, this triggers a relaxed demeanor in AVA. Don’t be mistaken, though: This is very far from artificial sentience, Sagar cautions. “Everything is radically simplified from the real thing, and even how the real thing works is not understood,” he says. “This is just sort of current thinking on how some of these models work.”

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HOT OFF THE PRESS: Soul Machines™ Partners with Autodesk to launch AVA at Autodesk University 2017

Soul Machines today announced it has partnered with Autodesk, a builder of software that helps people imagine, design and create a better world, to create a digital human of Autodesk’s Virtual Agent, AVA. Announced at Autodesk University, Autodesk’s annual conference in Las Vegas, Ava will provide customers access to a service agent 24/7—answering questions, directing them to content and completing transactions.

Soul Machines™ is advancing AVA’s capabilities, with a digital human face and persona that it literally brings AVA “to life” using its world leading Human Computing Engine™ (HCE). The Soul Machines™ HCE  is a Virtual Nervous System™ that combines neural networks and biologically inspired models of the human brain. AVA’s Virtual Nervous System gives her the ability to see and hear as well as sensory systems that enable to recognize and respond emotionally in an incredibly human like way.

“The future of highly personalized customer engagement is a blend of digital and human support, and AVA our first digital employee is just that. She will understand human consciousness and interactions by reading signals such as body language and facial reactions—in turn learning more about customers to better serve them. The addition of emotional intelligence to AVA takes our customer service beyond purely transactional to relational.” – Rachael Rekart, senior manager for, machine assisted service engagement at Autodesk

By putting a face on Artificial Intelligence and extending the potential for customer interaction beyond text based chatbots and voice assistants we enable large corporations and organizations all over the world to enter a whole new era of personalized service and democratized knowledge transfer.

“As one of the world’s leading global software companies we are excited that Autodesk will be among the first to deploy our technology on top of their IBM Watson cognitive platform. If the future of software is AI and 3D graphics this is an extremely exciting partnership for both Autodesk and Soul Machines” – Greg Cross, Chief Business Officer, Soul Machines

As we work with Autodesk to launch their first digital employee AVA we are very excited  to be exploring the future of human machine interaction at the very beginning of the AI and robot era. Learning about how we can make these “machines” more human like  and more useful to each and everyone of us as individuals will define the future of creating compelling customer experiences.