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 DNA platform 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 machines launches 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: ANZ’s artificial intelligence entity Jamie took 12,000 customer inquiries in its first 100 days

Article by John Antony as featured on Stuff | November 18, 2018

ANZ is increasing the workload for its artificial intelligence technology but promises the customer service tool won’t put front line bankers out of work. Launched in July, ANZ New Zealand’s “digital assistant”, called Jamie, was initially programmed to answer questions on the 30 most frequently searched topics on the bank’s website.

In its first 100 days Jamie had more than 12,000 conversations with people visiting the site, with the most common question being how to open a bank account, which Jamie was asked nearly 1200 times.

 Jamie has been programmed to say it likes watching cat videos in its spare time Jamie has been programmed to say it likes watching cat videos in its spare time

ANZ is planning to increase its ability to answer questions on more topics and include some Te Reo Māori in its vocabulary. At this stage the queries Jamie helps with are of a general nature only. It does not ask for any personal information, or customer number.

But ANZ head of digital and transformation Liz Maguire said it would be just “a couple of years” before Jamie was carrying out personal banking tasks.

“When you’re driving in the car you might go: ‘Hey, Jamie, I really need to pay the babysitter $50.’ And Jamie does that for you,” Maguire said.

ANZ staff were positive about the roll-out of artificial intelligence and their jobs were not at risk, she said.

 ANZ Head of digital and transformation Liz Maguire says artificial intelligence will eventually be carrying out banking tasks for customers ANZ Head of digital and transformation Liz Maguire says artificial intelligence will eventually be carrying out banking tasks for customers

“There is no intention to use Jamie to replace our front line bankers.” Maguire said it was unlikely Jamie would be used in any of its branches.

“I think that would be a bit weird. We know there are very clear times when customers wish to speak to bankers about things that are quite important parts of their financial lives.”

 There are a few “Easter eggs” hidden within ANZ’s artificial intelligence, head of digital and transformation Liz Maguire says. There are a few “Easter eggs” hidden within ANZ’s artificial intelligence, head of digital and transformation Liz Maguire says.

Jamie, who was developed with technology company Soul Machines, could interact through devices via a webcam and microphone or by typing.

The entity had been asked about its favourite movie 241 times, whether it likes turtles, what’s in its fridge, what sort of tea it likes and who its favourite New Zealand geologist is.

So far it has been able to answer about 60 per cent of customer queries.

“For the next part of the pilot, we’ll be making her more knowledgeable so she can answer even more questions – about banking and other things,” Maguire said.

ANZ was working on developing Jamie to be able to talk about exchange rates and interest rates in real time, she said.

Jamie was constantly learning and being regularly updated with new information based on customer questions and feedback.

Its te reo Māori vocabulary would include phrases such as tēnā koe (hello), ka rawe (excellent), and mā te wā (time).

Other languages may be added in future.

“At the moment, she’s very much a work in progress though. But like all of us, she’s learning and she’s getting better with time,” Maguire said.

Read the full article here

PRESS: Jamie has been so successful in her first 100 days, ANZ is extending her pilot

ANZ Media Release | November 18, 2018

From term deposits to turtles – Jamie’s first 100 days of your questions

ANZ New Zealand’s digital assistant Jamie has been so successful in her first 100 days that the bank is going to extend her pilot, increase her abilities and include the use of common Te Reo Māori words in her vocabulary.

Jamie has already had more than 12,000 conversations with existing and potential customers. The most common question has been how to open a bank account, which Jamie has been asked nearly 1200 times.

Jamie, who was developed with world-leading tech company Soul Machines, was initially programmed to answer questions on the 30 most frequently searched-for topics on

She has also been asked about her favourite movie 241 times, whether she likes turtles, what’s in her fridge, what sort of tea she likes and who her favourite New Zealand geologist is.

“Given the range of questions people have asked, Jamie has done brilliantly in her first 100 days,” says Liz Maguire, Head of Digital & Transformation at ANZ.

“So far she’s been able to answer about 60% of customer queries, which isn’t bad for a digital assistant in her first job. For the next part of the pilot, we’ll be making her more knowledgeable so she can answer even more questions – about banking and other things.

“What I’ve really enjoyed is the amazing response that she’s got from our staff, who are really excited about the technology and the new way customers can get help with some of these simple enquiries.”

Jamie is being regularly updated with new information based on customer questions and feedback. As well as including some Te Reo in her vocabularly, there is the possibility that one day she will be able to add other languages or be joined by digital assistants of other ethnicities.

“It’s fantastic to see ANZ making an ongoing commitment to Jamie to ensure their customers are some of the first in the world to benefit from a digital assistant,” says Greg Cross, Chief Business Officer at Soul Machines.

“ANZ’s customers have already embraced Jamie and enjoyed engaging in a really accessible way, anytime – and there’s a lot more to come in the future.”

“The potential roles for Jamie are really exciting,” agrees Ms Maguire. “I’d like to see her in our mobile banking app, goMoney, to help our customers do their banking, and for her to assist people with language or accessibility issues.

“At the moment, she’s very much a work in progress though. But like all of us, she’s learning and she’s getting better with time!”



Background information on Jamie

• ANZ partnered with New Zealand tech company, Soul Machines™, to develop Jamie. Soul Machines has made a name globally for humanizing artificial intelligence.

• Jamie has a digital human face and persona, and is ‘brought to life’ using Soul Machines’ 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 which allow her to express personality and character in an incredibly human like way.

• At the moment, the queries Jamie can help with are of a general nature only. She will not ask you to share any personal information, not even your customer number.

• To talk to Jamie, you need to have a camera and microphone on your computer, tablet or phone along with a compatible browser.

• For the best conversation with Jamie we recommend using a device with a larger screen such as a desktop PC, laptop or larger tablet, we also recommend using the latest version of these browsers:

– Google Chrome v28 (or later)

– Safari v11 (or later)

– Microsoft Edge v12 (or later)

– Mozilla Firefox v22 (or later)

PRESS: UniServices invests US$2m into its world leading AI company Soul Machines

Auckland, New Zealand | October 29, 2018

UniServices has followed Mercedes Benz’s investment into Soul Machines with its own commitment of US$2m to a US$15m+ funding round announced recently by the company.  UniServices, which owns 15% of the company, made the investment through its $20m University of Auckland Inventors Fund.  Soul Machines was spun out of the University of Auckland in July 2016 with a Series A investment round by some of the world’s leading AI investors. 

The University of Auckland Inventors Fund was formed in 2016, with capital provided from UniServices’ retained earnings from its commercialisation business.  Designed to fill a gap in the market for very early-stage capital in deep-tech IP based businesses, and to foster academic  and student entrepreneurship, the Fund is typically the first investor in University-derived start-ups. It syndicates with local and global investors, including Horizon Ventures, Brandon Capital and the IP Group, that collectively have over $1bn of capital.  

The Fund is designed to create more “stickiness” of start-ups to the local economy and ecosystem and to develop more home-grown entrepreneurial, product development, start-up management and start-up governance talent.  

Soul Machines is exactly the kind of company that the Inventors Fund is designed to support. It has world leading, deeply transformative IP, with a long term vision that will require patient capital to, potentially, deliver superior returns in the long run. The Inventors Fund demonstrates that the University of Auckland is prepared to back its own technology,” Andy Shenk, CEO of UniServices. 

Greg Cross, Chief Business Officer of Soul Machines, commented it’s great to have UniServices continuing to support the company alongside Mercedes Benz and Horizons Ventures. “New Zealand needs more technology companies based on deep research and Intellectual Property. The University of Auckland and UniServices are making a massive contribution to developing the ecosystem required to create more companies like us.”

About the University of Auckland 

The University supports economic growth locally and nationally through innovation and entrepreneurship, creating quality jobs and high-value businesses, producing graduates that contribute to and strengthen our economy and society, to the benefit of all.  The University of Auckland is New Zealand’s world-ranked university. It is the leading New Zealand university in the QS World University Rankings 2019 and the highest ranked New Zealand university in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings. 

About Auckland UniServices Limited 

At UniServices, we bring ideas to life. We partner with the best minds at the University of Auckland to apply intelligent thinking to ideas that have the potential to change the world.  Together with our partners, we look to the future, imagine the possibilities, and innovate for public and private good. For over 30 years, we’ve collaborated with hundreds of organisations on thousands of projects in New Zealand and around the world.  We are the most innovative university in New Zealand in Reuters’ Top 75: Asia’s Most Innovative Universities rankings. We have also been identified by a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) study as one of the world’s leading entrepreneurial universities “under challenging conditions” (MIT Skoltech Initiative).

Read all the latest media coverage here.

UniServices invests US$2 million into Soul Machines


Soul Machines on a hot streak as more firms invest



Soul Machines’ exec responds to Hoskings hit, reveals big investment from Siri backer

The University of Auckland’s commercialisation arm UniServices also joined the latest Soul Machines fund-raising round

PRESS: Global media coverage on Daimler’s investment in Soul Machines

The world is responding to the announcement by Daimler Financial Services of their investment in Soul Machines. Read all the latest media coverage here.

Emotional Intelligence: Daimler Financial Services invests in Soul Machines

Daimler Financial Services makes strategic investment in New Zealand-based company Soul Machines to further develop artificial and emotional intelligence for multi-channel, customer-service pilot.

Daimler Financial Services Invests in Soul Machines

Daimler is one of the first premium brands in the automotive sector to develop emotional intelligence use cases based on Soul Machine’s technology.


Kiwi digital avatar creator Soul Machines wins Daimler investment

Leading New Zealand digital business avatar creator Soul Machines has a “significant” new shareholder, the financial services arm of German premium carmaker Daimler AG.

Daimler invests in NZ avatar developer Soul Machines

The investment would put the company in a better position to quickly develop and test its technology in the automotive sector.


Digitale Menschen als Kundenberater: Daimler investiert in Emotionale Intelligenz

Daimler Financial Services, die Finanzsparte des deutschen Autokonzerns, beteiligt sich am neuseeländischen Start-up Soul Machines.

German automotive giant Daimler invests in Soul Machines

Daimler Financial Services, a subsidiary of vehicle company Daimler AG, is investing in Auckland-based intelligent and emotional avatar developer Soul Machines.


Customers could someday work with avatars to finance with Daimler

Through Daimler Financial Services’ investment in Soul Machines, customers may be able to make their purchase and finance decisions with advice from an avatar.

Daimler investiert in Emotionale Intelligenz

Daimler Financial Services investiert in das neuseeländische Startup Soul Machines.


Daimler Financial Services trials avatar in customer call centre

Following satisfactory trials, DFS has now invested in the New Zealand-based company Soul Machines.

Daimler Financial Services invests in New Zealand start-up Soul Machines for advanced avatars

Daimler’s financial and mobility services division has made a strategic investment in Soul Machines


Daimler investe in Soul Machines per sviluppare l’intelligenza artificiale emotiva

Dopo aver intrapreso con successo la strada dell’intelligenza artificiale, introdotta sui propri veicoli a partire dall’ultima generazione di Classe A, Daimler accelera nello sviluppo della tecnologia investendo in Soul Machines.

Daimler Finance Services invests in avatar-based customer service

Daimler Financial Services has made a strategic investment in Soul Machines, the New Zealand start-up that is a world leader in digital avatar-based customer service.


Daimler Financial Services makes strategic investment in Soul Machines; artificial and emotional intelligence

Daimler Financial Services, the financial and mobility services arem of Daimler AG, has made a strategic investment in Soul Machines further to develop the combined use of artificial and emotional intelligence.

Daimler Financial Services beteiligt sich an Soul Machines

Die Daimler Financial Services investiert in den Bereich Emotionale Intelligenz und geht eine strategische Beteiligung bei der neuseeländischen Soul Machines ein. 


HOT OFF THE PRESS: Daimler Financial Services announces investment in Soul Machines


  • Daimler Financial Services makes strategic investment in New Zealand-based company Soul Machines to further develop artificial and emotional intelligence for multi-channel, customer-service pilot.

  • Chief Information Officer Udo Neumann: “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.”

  • “The New Zealand start-up Soul Machines is a world leader in the field of Emotional Intelligence for use in machines and digital avatars.”

Orlando, Florida – Daimler Financial Services, the financial and mobility services captive of German premium car and commercial vehicle company Daimler AG, announced at the Gartner Symposium in Orlando (FL) a strategic investment in Soul Machines™, a ground-breaking New Zealand company re-imagining how humans connect with machines, to further develop the combined use of artificial and emotional intelligence. Daimler is the first premium brand in the automotive sector to develop emotional intelligence use cases based on Soul Machine’s technology.

“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” said Udo Neumann, global CIO of Daimler Financial Services, during his keynote presentation at the Gartner Symposium. Terms of the investment were not disclosed.

Customer Experience: Use Case for Call Centers

Daimler and Soul Machines already presented digital avatar “Sarah” in February at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Since then, “Sarah” was successful in answering most frequently asked customer questions during an internal pilot at one of the company’s call centers in the USA. Daimler Financial Services plans to use Soul Machines’ technology to optimize the customer experience through artificial and emotional intelligence. Digital avatar “Sarah” will be able to support customers like a personal concierge. Thanks to Emotional Intelligence, the machine will be able to recognize the most diverse individual customer needs and offer the right information at the right time. For customers, this means communicating with a convenient, voice-controlled and emotionally intelligent touchpoint. This brings Daimler Financial Services at the forefront of a changing environment, as the share of online business is increasing significantly and customers are making their purchasing decisions on digital platforms. Benedikt Schell, Chief Experience Officer at Daimler Financial Services: “Customers expect intuitive, time-saving services that are available 24/7 through the channel that is most convenient for them. With the investment in Soul Machines we are laying an important foundation to not just meet, but exceed these customer expectations.”

Digital Avatars: Machines with emotional and cognitive intelligence

Soul Machines is a New Zealand company, founded in 2016, specializing in the space of digital avatars, emotional intelligence and cognitive intelligence. The company brings technology to life by creating incredibly life-like, emotionally responsive, artificial humans with personality and character that allows machines to talk to humans face-to-face.

“As we continue to lead the world in advanced AI technology and development of digital humans across a broad spectrum of industries, this strategic investment from Daimler Financial Services puts us in an even better position to quickly develop and test our disruptive technology in the automotive sector together with our great partner,” stated Greg Cross, Chief Business Officer, Soul Machines.

CIO Udo Neumann adds: “Emotional intelligence will play a crucial role in adapting services, such as car financing, leasing and insurance, car-sharing or ride-hailing to customers. Different from today’s voice-based, assistance technology, “Sarah” will be programmed to recognize non-verbal behavior in real-time using face recognition.”

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. The company brings technology to life by creating incredibly life-like, emotionally responsive, artificial humans with personality and character that allow machines to talk to us face-to-face. Their vision is to humanize artificial intelligence to better humanity. Soul Machines is now deploying the world’s first digital avatars with some of the biggest corporate brands in the world in Banking and Finance, Software and Technology, Automotive, Healthcare, Energy and Education industries.

Further information from Daimler is available at: and

HOT OFF THE PRESS: emotional intelligence daimler financial services invests in soul machines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PRESS: The insider’s guide to the making of a digital assistant

Liz Maguire, head of digital and transformation at ANZ bank, says Jamie, the avatar, provides vital lessons on digital inclusion and innovation.

Article by Divina Paredes (CIO New Zealand) | 09 October, 2018


 Image by CIO Image by CIO


The digital assistant is not going to be for everyone, but this is entirely about customer choice.

Liz Maguire, ANZ

Since Jamie started to work over two months ago, she has had more than 10,000 conversations with customers, and 60 per cent of customers say she was able to answer their queries.

Jamie is a trainee at ANZ Bank and works 24×7. But if you ask her to go out for coffee, she will politely turn you down. “I don’t need coffee to stay awake, but thanks for asking,” she replies. After all, Jamie can not just step out of her workplace. Jamie is an avatar, created to answer frequent customer queries.

“Jamie is a work in progress,” explains Liz Maguire, head of digital and transformation at ANZ Bank.

“As human beings, we have been talking for a lot lot longer than we have been using small screens,” says Maguire, on how the project came about.

“We worked from the hypothesis that talking to a digital assistant was better than pressing a button on a screen.”

Maguire talked about creating Jamie as part of her presentation on the ‘secrets of effective change leaders: inclusion and innovation’ at the recent CIO and Computerworld forum ‘Digital Now and Digital Savvy’ held in conjunction with Zoho.

Maguire explains that at the moment, Jamie can answer answer the top 30 frequently asked questions or most frequently searched-for topics on the help section of She shares that they are receiving demands to include more topics that Jamie can answer.

Jamie was made in partnership with Soul Machines, whose CEO and co-founder Mark Sagar, has won awards for his groundbreaking facial technology in King Kong and Avatar.

“If you are happy, she looks happy; if you are sad, she looks genuinely concerned,” says Maguire.

Maguire explains Jamie sits on a “big AI stack” and is on what she calls “moderated learning mode.”

We are looking at all of the conversations she is having with the customers, says Maguire. “She gets a lot of abuse, which is kind of disturbing, and which is one of the reasons why we did not turn on the learning mode.”  

 Image by CIO Image by CIO



Maguire did not elaborate on the nature of the abuse, other than saying they were “clearly inappropriate things.” She discloses that the team spent a lot of time working on privacy issues that go with the deployment of a digital human.

She says a customer accepts a disclosure agreement that they will get written extracts of the conversation and the emotional tags. Jamie can only answer generation questions and does not need personal customer data.

“We don’t want people talking about specific information with her,” explains Maguire.

Digital inclusion, digital options

She adds that Jamie compliments the digital options and channels of the bank. She says two-thirds of their customers use digital channels regularly. The digital assistant is not going to be for everyone, “but this is entirely about customer choice.”

The ages of those who use the digital assistant are fairly evenly split between those in the early 20s and mid-60s, says Maguire. There is slightly less use of the technology by those over 65 and those under 21. “That is a reflection that those under 21 have less complex banking needs,” she states.

“Jamie is smart, capable, and intelligent, so why could she not be female?” Liz Maguire, ANZ

According to Maguire, she is often asked, “Why is Jamie female?” Her answer: “Jamie is smart, capable, and intelligent, so why could she not be female?”

The truth, she explains, is that Jamie is a stock avatar from Soul Machines. Jamie is also the same model used by Air New Zealand’s avatar Sophie.

“We are the first bank in the world to have a publicly available digital human on the system,” declares Maguire. So what can other organisations learn from their pioneer work on creating a digital assistant? Maguire ‘crowdsourced’ the answers from her team and distils their responses into four areas:

First is, the importance of conversations.

Maguire says first, they had to develop a personality for Jamie, who she describes as “quite geeky.” “The team spent a lot of time saying, what would Jamie say in this particular situation?”

ANZ brought in a former movie director to the team. “She has a whole bunch of skills in making characters believable,” says Maguire. She adds that, “The conversation, without question, is absolutely the biggest piece of work in creating Jamie.”

She reveals the team worked on the digital human for about a year before they were confident for it to go live.

When Jamie went live in July, they learned their second biggest lesson: that people are willing to give time to try new ideas.

“We [were] gobsmacked about how willing our customers and staff have been to try new things,” she relates. Maguire shares that the staff approached customers queuing at the ANZ flagship branch on Queen Street in Auckland. “People were receptive [to the invite], and they were way more receptive to Jamie once “they had a go” in asking her questions. There were also unexpected benefits.

“We did not think that potentially Jamie might be a tool to help migrants,” says Maguire. “We had customers with English as a second language and they said to us, ‘actually, I feel at ease. Sometimes I am worried with my English when I am speaking to someone in your branch. I don’t have that problem when I am dealing with Jamie’.”

She says the bank also tested Jamie with more than 150 customers and staff, to “give us reassurance we aren’t going to bungle up our brand.” This, she says, is a lesson for heritage companies working on innovation projects. “If you are doing something that is quite different from what you do, [consider] what is that going to have an impact on your brand.”

She then shares the third lesson: how Jamie has highlighted to them that customers have surprisingly high expectations of innovation.

Since the launch, customers have felt that Jamie can answer anything. So much so that when the bank had an outage a few weeks ago, everybody who went to Jamie thought she would know what was going on. “Once you start down the path, you have to move pretty darn quickly to be able to keep up with customer expectations and hopefully get ahead as well,” she says.

Jamie is responding, talking to the customer in real-time, and we are building a bunch of functionalities to make use of that real-time capability, Maguire further expounds.

She then segues to the fourth lesson shared by her team: There’s never enough time.

“When you are working on new innovation, you are always pressed for time,” states Maguire. She says when they were working on Jamie, the year felt like an “excruciatingly long time”.

Since Jamie was a pilot project, they had to work on a lot of sign offs, and spent a lot of time testing “to get the project right”. “What we have found is the time is super slow when you are bringing it to market. The second you bring it to market time, time is up really really quickly,” she says. Thus, she advises the audience at the CIO and Computerworld forum, “Give yourself a lot more time upfront and a lot more time you think you need for your pilot. Before you know it, your pilot will be finished.”

“We are pretty excited over Jamie,” says Maguire.  She sees “interesting use cases” for Jamie within and outside the bank.

In the future, Jamie may be able to tell a customer interest rates in real-time.

“I would like to see her at GoMoney,” says Maguire.

The latter, developed by her team, is the most popular mobile banking app in New Zealand, having been downloaded by more than half a million Kiwis.

“We expect over time we’ll have our own branch avatars, as well.”

PRESS: Greg Cross wants your next employee to be an AI-powered digital human

Article by Jordan Teicher for INDUSTRIOUS issue 3 – IBM’s Quarterly magazine about the latest trends in the industry

“Humans can communicate in lots of ways,” said Greg Cross. “But when we actually want to have important conversations we always do those face to face.”

Cross, the CBO of Soul Machines, practices what he preaches. Though he lives in New Zealand, he took time out of a brief business trip in New York to meet me in person at IBM’s office near Union Square. We gathered to talk about his company, whose mission is to make face- to-face conversations like ours part of the most common interactions we have today—namely, the interactions we have with intelligent machines.

“We’re heading into a world where we’re going to spend a lot more of our time interacting with machines. We have a fundamental belief that these machines can be more helpful to us if they’re more like us,” he said.

To do that, Soul Machines’ team of AI researchers, neuroscientists, psychologists and artists are creating “digital humans”—fully autonomous, animated individuals that look and sound like real people. The key to their intelligence is a cloud-based virtual central nervous system called the Human Computing Engine, which sits atop IBM Watson and uses Watson Assistant.

When connected to that system, Soul Machines’ digital humans are amazingly lifelike. They hear and see the people with whom they interact, and their conversations with those people are made emotive through nuanced facial expressions. For businesses, Cross said, digital humans can revolutionize the economics of customer service, giving them the ability to provide personalized and consistent care at scale.

A face, Cross said, is a “reflection of the heart and mind
of an individual,” and it can be key to successful digital interactions with customers. In the years to come, he bets, businesses across industries will agree and make digital humans an integral part of their workforce.

“The question we wanted to explore was: What happens when you create a digital face? Will people engage with
it? Will they find that digital face more engaging than
a chatbot or a voice assistant? Our view is that, yes, of course they will. That’s ultimately the market and business development we’ve been going on,” Cross said.

“It completely captured my imagination”

Cross has been a technology entrepreneur nearly his entire career. At 18, he dropped out of business school at the University of Waikato, and began an internship at the high-tech manufacturer Trigon Packaging. Since then, he’s worked at technology startups in different industries all over the world. In 2007, he co-founded PowerbyProxi, a spin-out of the University of Auckland’s wireless power department, which developed high efficiency and high density wireless power products. The company sold to Apple last year.

“For me, there’s nothing more fun than taking on some sort of core technology or core idea, wrapping a team of people behind it, and exploring how you build a company around it. That’s still what gets me out of bed with a smile on my face,” he said.

Two years ago, Cross found his most recent opportunity
to do just that when he met Dr. Mark Sagar, an Academy Award-winning animator who was then the director of the Laboratory for Animate Technologies at The University of Auckland. Cross had, in the past, seen Sagar present his work— a virtual animated baby called BabyX that learns and reacts like a real human infant. But when Sagar sat down with him one-on-one to show him the technology underlying his creation, Cross knew he had to get involved.

“It completely captured my imagination,” Cross said.

First steps

When Cross and Sagar first started thinking about how
to turn the technology into a business, they drew up a list of half a dozen industries they knew were facing “quite significant disruption,” and began imagining how digital humans could help. They then started talking about digital humans at technology and industry conferences. Soon, business leaders eager to drive change in their industries wanted to talk with them.

“It’s like any new technology; it’s well understood that there’s an adoption curve. There are the early adopters and then there are those who never want to be first. We’re always very careful about making sure we’re speaking to the right people,” he said.

So far, it seems, Cross has found those people. This year, Soul Machines debuted its first crop of digital employees at Autodesk, Daimler Financial Services and NatWest. It’s still early days, Cross said, but the employees—Cora, Sarah, and Ava—are paving the way for a future in which digital humans will be an integral part of the way people interact with businesses.

“I like to think in five years we’ll create a very large population of digital humans who will be interacting with people and having hundreds of millions of conversations every day.”

Imagining the future

Where might digital humans pop up next? Cross couldn’t talk about some of Soul Machines’ upcoming projects. But the appetite for next-generation customer service solutions, he said, is strong across a number of industries, including retail and telecommunications. Digital humans could find a productive place in all of them.

In a fast-paced, digitally-driven landscape, customers have little patience for endless call center queues
and customer service departments with limited hours. Increasingly, they expect quick, seamless interactions
at any time of the day or night with representatives that understand and remember their preferences and history.

At the moment, Soul Machines’ digital humans are
making their mark in customer service. But Cross is already investigating a wide range of future applications for his company’s technology. He imagines digital humans one day teaching classes or providing medical care. Celebrities, he said, could enlist their own digital twin to perform tasks they can’t fit into their schedule. The possibilities, Cross said, are endless—and he’s exploring as many of them as possible.

“One day I can be sitting in a board room doing a presentation for a CEO of one of the largest banks or the largest tech companies in the world. Another day I can be sitting down with the biggest celebrities in the world,” he said. “It’s a huge amount of fun.”


HOT OFF THE PRESS: New Zealand startup Soul Machines puts human face on AI

Company founded by ‘Avatar’ animator will bring its digital humans to Asia next year

Article by Akane Okutsu | Nikkei Asian Review | October 02, 2018


 Soul Machines’ digital humanoid Lia shows lifelike expressions that would be hard for a physical robot to match Soul Machines’ digital humanoid Lia shows lifelike expressions that would be hard for a physical robot to match


TOKYO — “Do you need me to tell everyone your life story?” asks Lia as she appears on a screen, offering to introduce the speaker. Her wrinkles and moving eyes make her look like a real person, but she is a digital humanoid.

New Zealand-based startup Soul Machines has so far created 15 such humanoids — disembodied screen presences — employed mainly as customer service assistants. They work in seven countries for companies including Royal Bank of Scotland and Australia and New Zealand Banking Group.

The company looks to produce thousands of digital humanoids in the next three years, with plans to expand into Asia for the first time in the next 12 months.

In Asia, Soul Machines will launch projects with companies in Japan and China in the first half of next year. It also wants to expand to Southeast Asian countries like Singapore.

“We tend to look for industries where we know they are going to go through substantial change, such as banking, autos, health care and education,” Chief Business Officer Greg Cross told the Nikkei Asian Review in an interview on the sidelines of FIN/SUM 2018, an annual financial technology summit in Tokyo sponsored by Nikkei. Cross declined to disclose the partners’ names or their industries.



“The Chinese market is hugely exciting,” Cross said, as “there are opportunities to leapfrog industry infrastructure” that is relatively underdeveloped, lacking sufficient access to health or financial services.

“Over the next few years we would expect our team to grow to as many as 200 to 300 people to support the business,” Cross said.

Entry into Asia means making humanoids that look Asian, and adjusting their social behaviors to fit the host cultures, Cross said.

One of these humanoids can be created and implemented for “less than half a million dollars,” according to Cross. The company charges annual subscription fees based on factors such as the number of personalities and languages, as well transaction fees that vary with the number of conversations.

The startup was co-founded two years ago by Mark Sagar, who won sci-tech Academy Awards for the films “King Kong” and “Avatar.” It has attracted investors including Hong Kong-based Horizon Ventures, as well as founders of Facebook and Google-owned AI company DeepMind, the developer of the AlphaGo program.

Unlike competitors that feed prerecorded content into a chat box, “we are actually autonomously animating these digital characters using brain models to synthesize human behavior in real time,” Cross said in his speech at FIN/SUM.

Soul Machines’ digital assistants use existing artificial intelligence engines such as IBM’s Watson, which supports several languages. The company also trains its AIs to understand different English accents.

Going beyond software, the Soul Machines team includes neuroscientists to build artificial brains and nervous systems. Artificial digital versions of hormones like adrenaline and oxytocin run through these systems, making the humanoids act human.

“There are some jobs that digital humans and AI can do better than real humans,” Cross told Nikkei in an interview, mentioning customer support. Humanoids become practical for providing personalized services to a large number of users, collecting information and learning in the process. They are better than humans at providing specialized information and analysis based on vast quantities of data, he added.


 Greg Cross, Soul Machines’ chief business officer, says humanoids beat humans at some tasks (Photo by Takuya Fujisawa) Greg Cross, Soul Machines’ chief business officer, says humanoids beat humans at some tasks (Photo by Takuya Fujisawa)


Soul Machines continues research and development on humanoids that are even more lifelike. Cross said the company is “making our virtual nervous system smarter, teaching it how to learn, teaching it how to cooperate, teaching it things like social learning patterns.”

The idea is that the more humanoids resemble humans, the better they can interact with and be trusted by them. “If you are on a self-driving car, how do you trust that machine?” asked Cross, suggesting that an artificial chauffeur may help.

Humanoids would also benefit from technological developments by other companies, such as improvements in the accuracy of natural-language processing. Even physical humanoid robots are possible if other companies develop technology that imitates the movements of human facial muscles, Cross said.

Read the full article here



PRESS: World’s first digital teacher starts work teaching kids about energy

Article as featured on Fanatical Futurist | September 2018


AI, avatars and bots play an increasingly central role in the future of education, and Will is the first teacher of his kind

It’s back to school time for millions of children around the world and you know what that means – it’s time to fire up the tablet that teaches you. At least that’s what primary school students in New Zealand are doing after 125,000 of them have become the first students in the world to learn from an incredibly lifelike Artificially Intelligent (AI) digital avatar.

A few months ago Auckland energy company Vector teamed up with New Zealand AI company Soul Machines, whose complex deep learning based avatars I’ve discussed at length before, to create Will, a convincing and engaging digital teacher. And lest I remind you, when you watch the video below, Will is the first of his kind so you can expect him to improve very quickly as the technology advances. Will is now part of Vector’s “Be Sustainable with Energy” program which it offers free of charge to the schools it sells electricity to, and he, or maybe it, who knows… will be teaching the children all about sensible energy use.



The students will be fully able to interact with him on the device of their choice. Thanks to some impressive AI chops from Soul Machines, who specialise in “Human to AI” interfaces, it won’t be long until the students interaction with Will, from the way he speaks and his responses to his mannerisms, sound and feel “real.”

As you’d expect Will’s main skillsets at the moment center around different forms of renewable energy, such solar and wind, and he can also ask the students questions about what they’ve learned to make sure his “lessons” stick. According to Vector’s Chief Digital Officer, Nikhil Ravishankar, students seem particularly taken by Will, and when you see the video above it’s probably no surprise.

“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,” he said in a news release.

He went on to add, “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.”

Ravishankar isn’t the only person who thinks bots, in this case in the form of AI software programs, will play an increasingly central role in education, many experts do too, as I highlight in my Future of Education 2020 to 2070 report.

It’s a well documented fact that many nations, particularly in the developing world, don’t have nearly enough teachers so bots like Will could one day help fill that gap. Compared to the cost of paying a human teacher, these systems are also far cheaper, they can scale to millions of students per avatar, and they can adjust to each student’s individual learning style, known as “Adaptive learning,” to help them reach their full potential.

While AI teachers could provide a host of benefits suffice to they still aren’t as advanced as they need to be. Will, for example, is only well versed on one topic, renewable energy, while quality teachers are typically far more well rounded. However, as we see advances in Artificial General Intelligence, like the one we saw recently, where AI’s become experts in multiple domains, over time this will become less of an issue. But social interaction between teachers and students is also critical to a quality education, and AI teachers most certainly lag behind their human counterparts in this realm, in fact, let’s face it – that’s an area where they simply can’t compete and won’t be able to for a very long time, even with the use of Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality to help them.

All that said though while Will might be the first digital teacher to hit the classroom he almost certainly won’t be the last. There’s a revolution coming.