This AI avatar is helping people with disability navigate technology

Posted: 21 February 2017 | By Darcie Thompson-Fields

Soul Machines, an AI company that focuses on creating ‘emotive’ machines, has revealed its first virtual assistant.

Nadia is an AI assistant based on the company’s Baby X technology, an intelligent, emotionally responsive avatar that simulates a toddler. The tech was created by Oscar winner Dr Mark Sagar and his engineering research team at the University’s Laboratory for Animate Technologies at the Auckland Bioengineering Institute, New Zealand.

After a research and development of about five years, Nadia is the first commercial project to be launched with the technology. Voiced by Cate Blanchett, the AI 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.

Emotionally responsive 

Nadia can speak, write and chat online, and was created to help disabled people that traditionally struggle with technology have better accessibility to the company’s services.

The project took a year from start to finish, with people with disabilities involved throughout the entire process.

The webcam on user’s computers will act as “the eyes” of Nadia, while the microphone will act as “the ears”, Cross says, resulting in human-like conversations with the online avatar.

“The unique parts of the avatar technology that we’re responsible for is the ability for the avatar to be emotionally responsive,” he says.

“If Nadia detects that you’re upset about something, she may respond instantaneously to be more empathetic, for example.

“This is the way in which were utilising the human face as a next-generation leisure experience between humans and machines.”

The company formally launched in November last year with a $7.5 million investment from Hong-Kong based venture capital firm Horizons Ventures.