Soul Machines Raises US$40M Series B

SOUL MACHINES RAISES US$40M SERIES B FROM GLOBAL INVESTMENT COMMUNITY TO ADVANCE THE WAY HUMANS AND MACHINES COLLABORATE

 ROUND LED BY TEMASEK WITH PARTICIPATION FROM LAKESTAR AND SALESFORCE VENTURES ALONG WITH FURTHER INVESTMENT FROM HORIZONS VENTURES 

AUCKLAND, NZ — January 8, 2020 — Soul Machines, the ground-breaking company re-imagining how humans connect with machines, today announced its US$40 million series B financing. Soul Machines is an AGI Research company developing the world’s leading Autonomous Animation platform to help humanize brands and the ways people engage with them. The investment was led by Temasek from Singapore, with participation from Lakestar, a leading European Venture Fund, and Salesforce Ventures, along with further investment from existing investors Horizons Ventures, University of Auckland Inventors Fund and others from their earlier rounds. With the funds, Soul Machines plans to continue expanding globally with specific focus on R&D and increasing its operating footprint around the world to meet growing demand.

Soul Machines was founded by Academy Award winner Mark Sagar and serial entrepreneur Greg Cross in 2016 when it was spun out of the University of Auckland. Together, technology pioneers Sagar and Cross are fusing AI, computational brain models and experiential learning to usher in a new era of customer experience. With Soul Machines’ technology, their clients’ Digital Heroes are able to democratize personal experience in a way that has not been previously possible.

“We have enjoyed getting to know and work with the teams at Temasek, Lakestar and Salesforce Ventures and believe they are the perfect partners to help as we continue to expand and grow our business, technology and client base globally,” said Greg Cross, Co-Founder and Chief Business Officer, Soul Machines. “We are very grateful for the continued support from Horizons Ventures who are highly valued partners that understand how great technology businesses are built.”

Soul Machines has deployed its HumanOS™ platform and created Digital Heroes for some of the biggest global brands in retail, automotive, banking and finance with customers including Procter & Gamble, Bank ABC, The Royal Bank of Scotland and more. Key initiatives in the education and healthcare fields are underway as well with Soul Machines. The Soul Machines’ technology creates a new kind of customer experience and overall engagement. Brands now have the opportunity to create a digital version of their ambassadors or an entirely digitally employee, like a service agent, to more effectively interact with their fans and customers in meaningful ways. 

“We’re proud to announce Salesforce Ventures’ investment in Soul Machines because it has an obsessive focus on improving customer experience by using artificial intelligence technology in new ways,” said Rob Keith, Head of Australia, Salesforce Ventures. “We look forward to continuing to work with Soul Machines as it scales and realises its global aspirations.”

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 lifelike, emotionally responsive, Digital Heroes 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 humans with some of the biggest corporate brands in the world in Banking and Finance, Software and Technology, Automotive, Healthcare, Energy, and Education industries. Soul Machines currently has over 120 employees with offices in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York City, London, Tokyo, Melbourne and Auckland. The company has a deep research and engineering talent pool with 4 Professors and 18 PHD’s. For more about Soul Machines™, visit www.soulmachines.com.

ABOUT LAKESTAR

Lakestar is one of Europe’s leading venture capital firm investing in technology companies led by exceptional entrepreneurs. Early investments included Skype, Spotify, Facebook and airbnb. Since raising a first fund in 2013, Lakestar manages an aggregated volume of EUR 1bn across three early stage funds, and more recently a growth fund. Lakestar has expanded and broadened their portfolio, with more recent investments in Harry’s, Opendoor, Oscar, GYG, Glovo, Sennder, Eigen, FiveAI and Revolut. Lakestar has presence in Berlin, Zurich and London. Lakestar helps companies to identify new markets and expand into them rapidly, with a focus on the US and Europe. The team advises and supports portfolio companies in business development, recruitment, technology and marketing. The investments range from early stage companies to those in their growth stage.

ABOUT SALESFORCE VENTURES

Salesforce Ventures—Salesforce’s corporate investment group—invests in the next generation of enterprise technology to help companies connect with their customers in entirely new ways. Portfolio companies receive funding as well as access to the world’s largest cloud ecosystem and the guidance of Salesforce’s innovators and executives. With Salesforce Ventures, portfolio companies can also leverage Salesforce’s expertise in corporate philanthropy by joining Pledge 1% to make giving back part of their business model. Salesforce has invested in more than 150 enterprise cloud startups since 2009. For more information, please visit www.salesforce.com/ventures.

 

 

# # #

Contact:

For Soul Machines

Alyssa Ross

+1 732-221-9036

media@soulmachines.com

 

 

 

 

Digital Puppets or Artificial Humans?

We’ve been watching with interest Samsung announce Neon at CES – validating Soul Machines pioneering AGI Research and their fully autonomous digital teammates already deployed with leading global brands and corporations like P&G.
 
For us, 7 years of research in neuroscience, developmental psychology and cognitive science have lead to the creation of the worlds first digital brain.
 
We believe that to autonomously animate digital characters in a hyper-realistic human-like way, they are going to need a brain. So that in the same way we as people use our human brain to interact, behave, engage with others and learn, Soul Machines digital people use our proprietary digital brain to do exactly the same things. For a more detail explanation read about our research and the Five Levels of Autonomous Animation.
 
It’s super interesting that many of the Neon videos appearing on Youtube are interspersing video footage of Soul Machines BabyX and digital people powered by our HumanOS™ It begs the question is the hype and the marketing from Samsung NEON at CES  little more than highly scripted CGI and video manipulation? Some are clear that what we are looking at is little more than vaporware at this point.
 
It’s hard to see any evidence of a digital brain working – but you can see that here and even engage with a digital hero.
 
Many varieties of digital puppets already exist today – avatars, scripted CGI, chatbots and more. Our aspiration has been clear – to create digital heroes that amplify human capability and assist in meaningful ways. The science and technology behind this is significant, and unlike Samsung, we are clear on the technology that makes this possible.
 
Creating digital heroes requires a combination of advanced animation (our industry-leading Digital DNA Studio™ makes this possible) – and – a digital brain (through our Human OS™). The combination enables us to create a hyper-real experience that goes beyond look and feel to embrace conversational AI, learning, and more.
 
We are well outside the lab, commercially deploying the world’s first digital heroes with brands globally.
 
Time will tell what Samsung has beyond a science experiment in a lab and marketing hype is just another Digital Puppet or something more. We will be watching with as much interest as our digital heroes.

The Age of A.I.

Robert Downey Jr. examines the latest advancements in artificial intelligence in the first episode of YouTube Originals docu-series, Age of A.I. Check it out for an insight into how Soul Machines is changing the future of human-machine interaction, and see the creation of an autonomously animated, digital version of musician, entertainer and entrepreneur Will.I.Am.

Bank ABC’s AI-powered Digital Employee Fatema – The World’s First Digital DNA™ Human

Bank ABC launches the first synthetic Digital Human using Soul Machines’ Digital DNA ™ technology.

Auckland, New Zealand, September 11, 2019 — Soul Machines, a New Zealand based deep science & technology company and Bank ABC, announce “Fatema,” a fully autonomous, AI-driven Digital Human who will be an integral part of the Bank’s customer experience. The ‘digital employee’ accumulates experiences, learns, and responds to customers individually through experiential learning, adding human-like intelligence to AI. Fatema uses an AI-powered Digital Brain to engage personally with customers and will work alongside Bank ABC’s mobile-only bank team to offer a multi-faceted, personalized customer service experience.

“This is truly an exciting time for Bank ABC. We have always been committed to pushing the envelope of digital innovation in the region and are thrilled to partner with ground-breaking companies like Soul Machines. Our newly established innovation function, led by Dr. Yousif Almas, spearheaded this initiative to take the banking experience to new frontiers – remarked Sael Al Waary, Deputy Group CEO, Bank ABC.  “AI will soon be an inseparable part of our lives, as individuals and as a community at large. It will redefine the workforce and the way we do business across industries including banking and finance. We believe the sooner we recognize its potential and adopt it, the better it is.”

Fatema is the first synthetic Digital Human deployed by Soul Machines, created using the company’s Digital DNA™ technology, which allows for the production of unique, hyper-realistic interfaces that drive new ways to communicate, collaborate and cooperate. Fatema’s synthetic makeup was produced from a digital gene pool, which allowed Bank ABC to choose specific traits and attributes to develop the optimal digital human for their organization.

“It’s been a great experience working with Bank ABC to create Fatema and customize her abilities to meet the needs of their customers,” stated Greg Cross, Chief Business Officer of Soul Machines. “Designing our first Digital Human completely from our Digital DNA™ technology, we were able to quickly create Fatema for Bank ABC to provide their customer with an authentic and ideal user experience.”

Fatema embodies Bank ABC’s endeavors into the optimization of technology to offer the most efficient and engaging banking customer experience by providing a stimulating interface for communication in a rapidly evolving digital environment. Fatema’s human-like appearance offers naturalized and intuitive interactions in direct contrast to contemporary modes that involve clicking, scrolling, searching and typing, on the part of the customer.

Fatema is designed to offer a unique banking experience for Bank ABC customers and will appeal to tech-savvy individuals who have superior service expectations. In her day-to-day function, she will be involved with social media to provide the latest news and updates about the Bank and will also be available on specific digital channels where customers will be able to verbally interact with her on various subjects. Fatema will begin her employment with the bank soon.

Bank ABC is a leading player in the region’s banking industry and provides global innovative Wholesale Banking coverage and products that include Corporate and Financial Institutions coverage, Transaction Banking (Trade Finance and Cash Management), Project and Structured finance, Syndications, Treasury and Financial Markets products and Islamic Banking. It also provides retail banking services through its network of retail banks in Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria. The Bank is leading the Fintech agenda in the region and hosts the Middle East and Africa Fintech Forum annually with its subsidiary Arab Financial Services.

Soul Machines™ is a ground-breaking, high-tech company of AI researchers, neuroscientists, psychologists, artists, and innovative thinkers, re-imagining how we will collaborate with machines. The company is the first to deliver a platform for autonomous animation using its Digital Brain. Their vision is to humanize artificial intelligence to better humanity. Soul Machines™ is now deploying the world’s first digital humans with some of the biggest corporate brands in the world in Banking and Finance, Software and Technology, Automotive, Healthcare, Energy, and Education industries, including Mercedes Benz, Royal Bank of Scotland and ANZ Bank.

 

SK-II & Soul Machines™ Announce YUMI: The World’s First Autonomously Animated Digital Influencer

YUMI will be the first digital face of SK-II, P&G’s global prestige skincare brand

CANNES, FRANCE — June, 17, 2019 – SK-II, global prestige skincare brand, announced today at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity that it will be partnering with Soul Machines™, ground-breaking company re-imagining how humans connect with machines, to create the world’s first autonomously animated digital influencer: YUMI.

As SK-II’s first digital brand face, YUMI is an integral part of SK-II’s ongoing transformation journey to connect with a new generation of consumers who are yearning for more meaningful experiences with the brands they know and trust. Using Google Dialogflow as its natural language platform, YUMI is capable of interacting as a human would and will not only provide beauty advice but also help consumers better understand their skin and guide them on their journey to skin transformation with PITERA™ Essence.

YUMI was introduced to the world by Soul Machines co-founders, Mark Sagar and Greg Cross at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity.

“We are thrilled to work with innovative companies and brands like Procter & Gamble and SK-II, who are embracing technology to humanize brands at scale,” said Greg Cross, co-founder and Chief Business Officer of Soul Machines. “YUMI will become a trusted resource to those who interact with her. Customers will immediately notice how easy the Soul Machines digital humans are to converse with and relate to once they spend time interacting with YUMI.”

“YUMI is more than a digital influencer. She is a digital human capable of interacting and engaging in ways technology hasn’t been able to do until now,” said Sandeep Seth, Chief Executive Officer, Global SK-II. “YUMI personifies our goal to combine technology and creativity to benefit customers. She provides the warmth and connection of human touch in the form of a digital experience to make the overall skincare experience at home and in store more enjoyable and compelling. We’re looking forward to customers being able to turn to her for skincare and beauty questions at any time of the day or night.”

ABOUT SK-II

For more than 38 years, SK-II has touched the lives of millions of women around the world through skin and life transformation. The fascinating story behind SK-II began with a quest to understand why elderly sake brewers had wrinkled faces, but extraordinarily soft and youthful-looking hands. These hands were in constant contact with the sake fermentation process. It took years of research for scientists to isolate the miracle ingredient Pitera™, a naturally-derived liquid from the yeast fermentation process. Since then, SK-II with Pitera™ has become a special secret shared by celebrities all over the world such as Chloe Grace Moretz, Behati Prinsloo Levine, Tangwei, Ni Ni, Chun Xia, Haruka Ayase and Kasumi Arimura and Naomi Watanabe. For the latest news and in-depth information, please visit http://www.sk-ii.com .

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 lifelike, 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 humans with some of the biggest corporate brands in the world in Banking and Finance, Software and Technology, Automotive, Healthcare, Energy, and Education industries. For more about Soul Machines™, visit www.soulmachines.com.

###

For more information, please contact

Shuqi Fu, Senior Brand Communications Manager, SK-II
fu.s.2@pg.com
O: 81286610

Alyssa Ross, Soul Machines
media@soulmachines.com
Phone: +17322219036

Humanizing Brands

Given Brands are made by humans, how have so many become so, well, inhuman?

Many of today’s brand challenges stem from not being human enough resulting in a chasm between the brand and the consumer. Turns out that the solution to ending what are highly robotic brand responses and interactions is a robot.

Efforts to achieve this typically require massive investments in human capital – and while this will remain the ultimate solution, it hinders brand engagement and comes with a raft of issues such as cost, consistency of service and experience, and time.

Digital has long been touted as the solution to these issues – as providing an infinitely scalable way for brands to reach and touch more consumers. In the purchase funnel that might be partially the case – but what about before and after? How do brands address the complex task of engaging and advising the consumer across their entire journey?

Early advances to address this have resulted in a raft of chat-bots, animated digital puppets and “hot cartoons”. These have proven to be little more than PR stunts. They attract eyeballs but don’t engage to deliver any value to them. Operating to rote scripts and responses, consumers have been rewarded with little more than sizzle without the steak.

That’s about to change.

By fusing advanced general intelligence – a type of AI – with a hyper-realistic animation engine, brands can now create human experiences, quickly and at scale. And this will advance brands into a new world of artificial general intelligence. AGI is the intelligence of a machine that could successfully perform any intellectual task that a human being can. That means, the new face of a brand – a Digital Human – can operate autonomously and in human ways.

YUMI, unveiled today at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity represents the world’s first autonomously animated Digital Influencer. Developed by Soul Machines and P&G’s SK-II, a global prestige skincare brand, YUMI marks the birth of the first fully autonomous digital influencer capable of interacting as a human would but with the control brands need and expect. The technology advances are significant, as are the implications for marketers:

The Rise of Digital Influencers & Celebrities

YUMI will be the first of thousands of new Digital Influencers – some unique, some founded on actual Digital Celebrities – that express a personality unique to them and the brand. Unlike current, information and interaction poor Digital Puppets, their integration with information and AI will enable them to present meaningful information, in a human way, contextualized to the consumer rather than a pre-programmed script. Digital Humans go beyond current PR Stunts with limited ability to interact and engage. They can evolve over time, humanizing the brand across multiple campaigns, products and services.

Crossing the AI Chasm

Today most marketers’ efforts with AI are confined to mining data that is then used to tailor offers and creative to be delivered in the right place and the right time. Digital Humans represent a new opportunity to fuse this data with customer interactions in real-time. Whether you are a Digital Agency, a Data Agency or Creative Agency, the Digital Human becomes the means to converse at scale.

New Creative Solutions

Current Digital Puppets are created through traditional animation techniques that cost as much as the time they take to create. Higher quality equates to higher cost. Solving this problem through an advanced CGI studio enables Digital Humans to be created with, until now, unseen quality, in days.

A New Interface

Digital Humans aren’t just a new face for brands, they are a new interface for any digital environment. Rather than clicking, scrolling, or searching we chat with a Digital Human who does the work for us. Interactions are simplified and humanized.

Digital Humans, like YUMI, humanize the brand by being human. They are imperfect but perfect. They possess knowledge. They respond to you based on emotion and intelligence. They listen, engage and react – autonomously and at scale. They are serious and funny. Importantly, they break from scripts and engage in conversation – and through this conversation, they do the work of presenting relevant information.

But more than anything, the new wave of Digital Humans will humanize brands by thinking and communicating like a human. And in the process, reinvent customer and brand experience.

The World’s First Autonomously Animated Digital Influencer

Today at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity we announced with P&G’s SK-II, a global prestige skincare brand, the world’s first autonomously animated Digital Influencer: YUMI.

YUMI marks the birth of the first fully autonomous digital influencer capable of interacting as a human would but with the control brands need and expect.

YUMI is an integral part of SK-II’s ongoing transformation journey to connect with a new generation of consumers who are yearning for more meaningful experiences with the brands they know and trust. YUMI will not only provide beauty advice but also help consumers better understand their skin and selecting SK-II products that are suitable for them.

Much has been written about Digital Influencers but this is very different and a result of our more than eight-year investment in hard science and development that has resulted in a number of patents and innovations. One of our goals is to contribute to the progression of artificial general intelligence (AGI) using the human as a model system, enhancing human-machine collaboration.

The difference between YUMI and what are being touted as digital influencers is significant:

  1. Autonomy: YUMI can operate at scale, autonomously of human intervention. She will express emotions and information through what is effectively a Digital Brain™. Harnessing advanced artificial intelligence (AI) she can respond and interact just as a human would.
  2. Human: Through our Digital DNA™ Studio she has been developed to be life-like but with a unique personality. Unlike current approaches which depend on hand-tooling and significant animation, YUMI was built rapidly and can change dynamically to reflect the unique personality of the brand. We’ve learnt through our research that creating a human experience has to couple hyper-real imagery with hyper-real expressions, reactions and conversation. To look good isn’t enough – the experience has to be relatable and feel great as well. The research we’ve seen elsewhere reinforces this point: “The photorealistic avatar was rated more trustworthy, and people had more affinity with it and preferred it over the cartoon agent… a cartoon character caused extra cognitive load which hindered learning particularly for male participants, compared to the realistic character” (Yuan, Dennis, & Riemer, 2019)
  3. Responsive: Current digital puppets, “hot cartoons” and bots are designed to follow pre-scripted animation paths and fixed in the way they are designed. YUMI will magically adapt and respond based on the consumer in front of her.
  4. Integrated: The current generation of digital influencers deliver little utility to consumers. By integrating YUMI with information she can deliver what consumers are looking for – help, advise, tips and tricks – all based on what they need.
  5. AI-powered: Until now Digital Influencers have animated scripts. The point of YUMI is she is animated because of AI – constantly learning and improving on her own.

YUMI is a Digital Influencer with a difference. She engages and responds as a human would. She won’t know everything but will know what to do when she doesn’t. She represents a new way for brands to be more human in engaging humans in a highly scalable way.

YUMI is more than a digital influencer, she is a digital human capable of interacting and engaging in ways technology hasn’t been able to do until now,” said Sandeep Seth, Chief Executive Officer, Global SK-II. YUMI personifies our goal to combine technology and creativity to benefit customers. She provides the warmth and connection of human touch in the form of a digital experience to make the overall skincare experience at home and in store more enjoyable and compelling. SK-II is the perfect brand to introduce YUMI to and we’re looking forward to customers being able to turn to her for skincare and beauty questions at any time of the day or night.”

That is what Brands and Consumers are demanding.

Soul Machines™ CBO & Co-Founder Inducted into NZ Hi-Tech Hall of Fame

A huge congratulations to Greg Cross, Soul Machines™  co-founder and Chief Business Officer who was inducted into the NZ Hi-Tech Hall of Fame Friday night. Greg’s journey as an entrepreneur has spanned leading Microsoft’s NZ operation; co-founding of wireless charging company PowerbyProxi – sold to Apple for in 2017 – and as a director of Cross Ventures and a partner in Movac.
“Greg has achieved so much in his own career and is truly an inspiring and passionate individual. He is someone who has spent so much of his life on the road, taking leading-edge NZ-founded tech companies like Power By Proxi and now Soul Machines™  to the world. His relentless drive and passion is inspiring to many of our up and coming companies. He is truly a worthy recipient of the prestigious Flying Kiwi award,”
said New Zealand Hi-Tech Trust chair Jennifer Rutherford.

PRESS: 5G will help bring digital humans to life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEWS: AVA – Stevie Awards winner

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

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

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

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

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


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

— Mark Averill, PwC New Zealand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An ostrich-like approach?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


PRESS: Virtual banks ‘to dominate future banking sector’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

© Soul Machines™


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

— Press Release – Bank ABC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read all the latest media coverage here.

Soul Machines launches Digital DNAplatform for lifelike virtual assistants

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

Soul machineslaunches digital DNA

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

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

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

Media Release | December 13, 2018 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Was Digital DNA™ Formed

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

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

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

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

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

Article as featured on informationweek | december 6, 2018

Daimler Financial Services CIO Says: Don’t Get Comfortable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Image: Pixabay Image: Pixabay

Disrupt yourself

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

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

Artificial intelligence

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

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

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

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