[Here’s a good example of the evolution of presence-evoking technology and (though it’s not discussed in this story from idealog), the obvious ethical issues it raises. The idealog story includes more pictures and two videos; MIT Technology Review’s coverage includes a 1:42 minute video of Nadia; and more information is available from the Soul Machines website. For a related story that raises some of the ethical issues, see “Can Alexa lie?” from Shelly Palmer’s blog. –Matthew]
Soul Machines unveils its first emotionally intelligent, lifelike avatar
By Elly Strang
17 Feb 2017
A Kiwi company at the forefront of humanising AI technology has revealed its first virtual assistant called ‘Nadia’, which has been voiced by actress Cate Blanchett.
Soul Machines is an Auckland-based company that develops intelligent, emotionally responsive avatars that improve the user experience on artificial intelligence platforms.
After receiving a $7.5 million investment from Hong Kong-based artificial intelligence and virtual reality investor, Horizon Ventures, the company formally launched in November last year.
Its technology is based on ‘Baby X’, a creation by Mark Sagar and his engineering research team at the Auckland Bioengineering Institute at the University of Auckland. Sagar is the CEO of Soul Machines.
Baby X is an emotionally intelligent virtual agent – and a digital simulation of an infant – which reacts to the person it’s communicating with via facial expressions and words in real time.
The technology is incredibly realistic, albeit quite disconcerting to some – as demonstrated by one comment on the Baby X Vimeo: “I think that as soon as the baby turned into a floating brain is when I realised that night-terrors would be in my near future.”
“Just about everybody who sees it is absolutely amazed that it’s actually a digital creation and not a video image of a baby,” Soul Machines chief business officer Greg Cross says.
Now, after a process of R&D of about five years, Nadia is the first commercial project to be launched with Baby X’s technology.
It was developed for the NDIS (National Disability Insurance Scheme) in Australia using IBM Watson’s artificial intelligence technology as a cognitive back-end and FaceMe, an Auckland-based real-time video communication company.
Nadia can speak, write and chat online, and was created to help disabled people that traditionally struggle with technology interfaces have better accessibility to the company’s services. Read more on Nadia the chatbot: The rise of emotionally intelligent, lifelike customer service avatars…