Soul Machines partners with Autodesk to create digital employee

Eight other projects are in the pipeline.

Soul Machines, the Auckland-based developer of intelligent, emotionally responsive avatars, has joined forces with 3D design, engineering and entertainment software developer Autodesk to create the US company's first digital employee.

AVA (Autodesk virtual agent), a virtual customer service agent, will interact with customers 24/7 to resolve any issues. However, unlike Autodesk's current virtual assistant that is text-based, its virtual nervous system will give AVA the ability to see, hear and respond emotionally, according to Soul Machines.

"This is where our technology is particularly unique. These digital characters do have a virtual nervous system, using AI technology and models of different parts of the human brain. That's how we bring them to life in a very human-like way," said Greg Cross, chief business officer for Soul Machines in an interview.

Rather than pre-programmed animation, they are "very emotionally responsive. If you smile at them, they will smile back. If you get upset with them, they will become more empathetic," he said. "They are designed to be emotionally responsive in an incredibly human-like way," he said.

The company is building on the technology behind Baby X, the first avatar developed the company's founder and chief executive Mark Sagar - a two-time Oscar-winning scientist - and his team. Soul Machines now has a staff of 50, including AI researchers, neuroscientists, psychologists and artists, who have developed "biologically inspired models of the brain that are responsible for some of the key capabilities of our Digital Humans. These are controllable by virtual neurotransmitters and hormones like dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin," according to Soul Machines.

Cross said they are currently working on another eight big projects across a range of different industry sectors. While he declined to identify any specific companies he said work was underway in the banking and finance industry and Soul Machines is also working with one of the world's largest automotive companies that is looking at "how to create a more personalized customer experience of their brand going forward."

He also said the company is working with one the biggest toy companies in the world "looking at how children in the future will literally be able to have a conversation with their favourite toy and as a result, the toy can help with teaching kids and delivering educational content."

Cross said Soul Machines is expanding and now has offices in San Francisco and New York and is about to open in London. However, it has no plans to relocate offshore. "We certainly see our research and development being based here for the foreseeable future," he said.

Soul Machines is also looking at raising more capital in the new year, but Cross didn't specify how much. "We are starting to talk to some international investors about that. That's a process that's getting underway," he said.

In November last year, it raised $7.5 million USD in a Series A financing round led by Horizons Ventures with Iconiq Capital.

BusinessDesk receives assistance from Callaghan Innovation to cover the commercialisation of innovation)

(BusinessDesk)

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