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The human face of Artificial Intelligence

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Written by: Isuru “Issy” Fernando. IBM’s leader on Artificial Intelligence and Cognitive Computing in New Zealand.

Isuru "Issy" Fernando

Isuru “Issy” Fernando

New Zealand’s national carrier Air New Zealand is known for reimagining customer experience and using technology in unexpected ways. They have consistently achieved global recognition as one of the top airlines in the world.

Air New Zealand has now partnered with Soul Machines, an innovative Kiwi company garnering worldwide attention, to create a ‘digital human’ powered by Emotional and Artificial Intelligence to explore new ways of helping globetrotting travellers.

Meet Sophie, Air New Zealand’s ‘ambassador in training’. At the North American launch of their new global marketing campaign “A Better Way To Fly” Sophie impressed guests by answering questions about New Zealand as a tourist destination and about the airline’s products and services.

Soul Machines used neural networks and biological brain models to bring Sophie to life, powered by a cloud based Human Computing Engine and IBM Watson. Not only did Sophie undergo domain-specific training, but other aspects such as her Kiwi accent and facial expressions were also tweaked to ensure a high level of realism.

Air New Zealand has always been leader in developing and trialling innovative new technologies and services – from their creative and entertaining in-flight safety videos to the introduction of wristbands to monitor unaccompanied children and bring peace of mind to their caregivers. Now with Sophie, they are setting a new standard in client service innovation and personalisation using artificial intelligence.

Who is Soul Machines?

Soul Machines Founder and CEO Mark Sagar is best known for his ability to create life-like animations, winning Oscars for his contributions in Avatar and King Kong. Mark first revealed his incredibly realistic and interactive virtual baby – BabyX in 2014 and he continues to refine the virtual baby from his years of research expertise in computer graphics, human physiology and artificial intelligence.

When asked about his fascination with teaching systems to learn, Mark comments:

“I wanted to explore the essence of animation: Is it possible to create a digital creature which can appear life-like, emote and learn through experience in the way we do?”.

“Our experience of the world depends on our actions, perceptions, emotions and our memories. The motivation for BabyX was to create a holistic biologically-inspired model of the driving forces, architectures and processes from which the behaviour we so often take for granted emerges, as a means of exploring theories of our nature and to show how the various underlying systems interconnect.”

“Our experience of the world depends on our actions, perceptions, emotions and our memories. The motivation for BabyX was to create a holistic biologically-inspired model of the driving forces, architectures and processes from which the behaviour, we so often take for granted emerges, as a means of exploring theories of our nature and to show how the various underlying systems interconnect.”

Digital Humans

Soul Machines calls their creations ‘digital humans’ because each one is created with its own unique personality and emotional intelligence. There are three layers that bring them to life:

  • creating a realistic physiological model,
  • the persona, and
  • the self-learning from each human interaction.

The IBM Watson platform enables these digital humans to learn an organisation’s corpus of knowledge and Soul Machines’ human computing engine allows them to embody the core values of the organisation they will represent.

IBM Watson presents Rachel & Soul Machines

Read more from Mark Sagar on IBM’s global “Whats next for AI” series or watch IBM’s Shantenu Agarwal introducing “Rachel” on stage at the LendIt Conference in New York City earlier this year below. Rachel also made an appearance at IBM’s Auckland office launch in April this year.

By incorporating a wide range of emotional responses, expressions and behaviours, digital concierges or virtual customer agents are becoming more widely accepted all over the world. Avatars, chatbots and robots are increasingly being introduced into these customer-facing roles and creating better experiences for all of us. One of the super things about my role here at IBM in New Zealand is that I get to work with some world-leading, innovative organisations that are engaging with IBM Watson and our IBM Cloud. It’s great to see Kiwi technology and Kiwi companies at the forefront of this global customer service revolution.

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