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6 industries getting “digital humans” sooner than thought

Could your industry follow schools, and hire Will - the “digital human” teacher?


The first digital human teacher

Education is one of the industries getting a digital transformation, with the first “digital human” teacher having trialled in New Zealand, teaching energy education to primary school students.

Digital Transformation is a great buzzword for our times, but it’s a curious feeling to watch young children being taught by a digitally transformed human.

Will looks, sounds and interacts with his pupils just like a teacher would, but he’s got a distinct advantage. They find him mesmerising.

New Zealand technology

Will is a humanised form of Artificial Intelligence, a trial collaboration between New Zealand Gas and Energy Company Vector, and ground-breaking New Zealand artificial intelligence company Soul Machines.  It also turns out that recently, like many New Zealanders, Will has moved to Australia for work, and now has a job as Kash, a virtual assistant who will transform services for Collection House debt collection services in Australia. 

Soul Machines arose from a research team at the University of Auckland, led by Dr. Mark Sagar, the Oscar-winning animation specialist behind computer-generated faces in Avatar and King Kong.

"The digital human is a step change from [chat] bots and digital puppets" spruiks the Soul Machines website, which says it's leading the way to artificial humans with full agency and with self awareness.

Industries already on board 

With the help of IBM® Watson™ Assistant, Soul Machines is creating “artificial human” advisers for brands across these six industries:

  • Banking and Finance
  • Software and Technology
  • Automotive
  • Healthcare and Skincare
  • Energy
  • Education
They include such brands ANZ, Air New Zealand, Sony, P&G, PWC, Royal Bank of Scotland, SK-II, and Mercedes-Benz.

“AI researchers, neuroscientists, psychologists, artists and innovative thinkers are re-imagining how we connect with machines. It brings technology to life by creating lifelike, emotionally responsive artificial humans, with personality and character that allow machines to talk to humans literally face-to-face.”  - Soul Machines website.

Where can you unlock value? 

Increasingly, the challenge for business leaders and managers will be to identify where automation could transform their organisations, and then figure out where to unlock value, given the cost of replacing human labour with machines, and the complexity of adapting business processes to a changed workplace.

Not that it’s a given that humans will be replaced in every organisation.

Mechanics and plumbers "safe"

At The Growth Faculty event Leading Digital Transformation in 2018, faculty members of Singularity University were quick to point out that we might own driverless cars, but we'll still need mechanics to fix them. Plumbing is another industry that will be very hard for intelligent robots to master, leading robotics expert Hod Lipson said. 

According to a 2016 Forbes article, most benefits to industry may come not from reducing labour costs, but from raising productivity through fewer errors, higher output, and improved quality, safety, and speed.

“Overall, we find that only about 5% of occupations could be fully automated by adapting current technology. However, today’s technologies could automate 45% of the activities people are paid to perform across all occupations. What’s more, about 60% of all occupations could see 30% or more of their work activities automated.” - Forbes

Teachers, safe or unsafe? 

However, perhaps disturbingly, the same article also named teaching as being the job that is the least susceptible to automation.

“The essence of teaching includes deep expertise and complex interactions with other people for which machines, so far and with few exceptions, receive an incomplete [low] grade.” – Forbes

But, did they anticipate three years ago this friendly and compelling digital human teacher Will? 

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Christine Kininmonth is a journalist and former panellist on ABC TV’s The New Inventors.  An avid reader, Christine believes reading is essential to business success. She presents The Growth Faculty’s Business Book Club each week.