How virtual humans could transform the brand experience

The rise of artificial intelligence is bringing with it the advent of a new age of robotic humans. We look at their impact on service and engagement


Up next: How human-like robots are changing government's approach to dealing with the community

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Virtual assistants are also popping up in some surprising places, including as the ‘human’ face of the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA), which is currently implementing the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

As part of that project, the NDIA has created Nadia, a virtual person human on the voice of Cate Blanchett, with a face and personality created by Soul Machine’s Sagar. Managing director and chief digital officer for the Centre for Digital Business, Marie Johnson, was involved in the creation of Nadia, and says it represents a reversal of almost everything government agencies have historically done online.

“In government over the last 20 years, it has all been about ‘put everything online’. The result of that has been all forms, and the complexity is pushed out to the citizen to figure it out,” Johnson says. “What are seeing now - and the thinking behind Nadia - is that the channels, technologies and interfaces need to adapt to the person.”

Creating Nadia involved extensive consultation with people with various forms of physical and mental disability, to build the most effective personality and language.

“It came from the community, and it was of the community,” Johnson says. “These are things that brands would equally need to consider.  What is the personality of their digital human representation?

“AI is not UX, and it is not IT. It is about the contextual experience. The training and development always needs to have an engagement from consumers at the beginning. Don’t think you can do it inhouse and pop it out and everything will be fine.”

Importantly, Johnson says Nadia was designed to operate across multiple channels from the outset to create a consistent interaction for clients, with the face being just one representation. Also, Johnson says it would be possible for virtual people such as Nadia to have other faces that might be more acceptable to different groups in the community.

“The face is part of the context, and so are the mannerisms and the gestures that come with that,” Johnson says. “There will be layers of that brand for other segments – you can have more than one face of the brand.”

Your own digital persona

But while virtual people might become the face of brands, it will not necessarily always be people they are interacting with.

Cross says that while Soul Machines can now create a virtual human in eight weeks, the company will release a set of tools in the next 18 months that anyone will be able to use to create a virtual representation of themselves.

“We definitely envisage a world in three to five years where everybody will be able to create digital personas to interact in the world for us and represent us,” Cross says. “We are building out something we call digital DNA, by capturing the digital faces of men and woman of different ages and ethnicities. Our objective is to build enough digital DNA that we can very quickly create any face in the world.

“We see a future where we will have digital versions of ourselves and digital companions.”

Perhaps the future of marketing won’t be all about business-to-consumer models, or even virtual-to-consumer, but virtual-to-virtual.

Read more of CMO's coverage on AI and its impact in marketing:


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