Up­date: dig­i­tal hu­mans

Voda­fone has re­vealed the name of its new dig­i­tal hu­man. Say kia ora to Kiri. Plus: how FaceMe and Tatau are mak­ing waves with blockchain and in the Mid­dle East re­gion.

Comms MEA - - News -

Say kia ora to Kiri, the world’s first dig­i­tal hu­man to be em­ployed by a telco.


Un­sur­pris­ingly, Kiri knows a thing or two about tech. Af­ter all, she lives and breathes it as a dig­i­tal as­sis­tant for Voda­fone, help­ing cus­tomers with any ques­tions they might have.

Voda­fone an­nounced in Septem­ber that it would be the world’s first telco with a dig­i­tal hu­man, an­nounc­ing that the then-un­named dig­i­tal denizen – cre­ated with the help of New Zealand com­pany FaceMe – would en­able cus­tomers to ben­e­fit from self-ser­vice op­tions and free up time for staff to ad­dress more com­plex cus­tomer needs. Later this year, Kiri will even be in sto­ries in New Zealand thanks to spe­cial kiosks.

Kiri’s strik­ingly life-like ap­pear­ance re­lies on real time ren­der­ing and ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence, us­ing FaceMe’s lat­est tech­niques in ma­chine learn­ing-based an­i­ma­tion. Skin tex­tures, such as pores and lines, are care­fully sculpted, and light re­flec­tion and even rough­ness have been de­tailed by FaceMe’s artists. Sim­ply put, the re­sults are so life­like, in­ter­act­ing with Kiri is al­most as if one is in­ter­act­ing with a “real” hu­man via Skype or video calling.

Ex­plains Voda­fone cus­tomer op­er­a­tions di­rec­tor He­len van Or­ton of the cus­tomer-led process of bring­ing Kiri to life: “Cus­tomers tell us they want the ex­pe­ri­ence of en­gag­ing with a dig­i­tal as­sis­tant to be seam­less, emo­tive and en­gag­ing – char­ac­ter­is­tics that are crit­i­cal for cre­at­ing trust. Cus­tomers want to feel val­ued and that their needs are taken care of.”

She says more. “Kiri will help out with rou­tine tasks so that our re­tail staff can help solve more chal­leng­ing is­sues for clients. The tech­nol­ogy also has the po­ten­tial to cre­ate whole new job cat­e­gories where front­line em­ploy­ees mon­i­tor con­ver­sa­tions to con­tin­u­ously im­prove them, cre­at­ing brand new pro­fes­sions in our evolv­ing dig­i­tal world.”

Stud­ies have shown nat­u­ral, en­gag­ing in­ter­ac­tion re­quires a less than 200 mil­lisec­ond re­sponse time. Kiri’s pro­cess­ing has been op­ti­mised for speed and ac­cu­racy to cre­ate an ex­pe­ri­ence that feels in­stan­ta­neous. Com­puter vi­sion tech­nol­ogy al­lows Kiri to “see” and be­have like hu­mans. For ex­am­ple, us­ing her sit­u­a­tional aware­ness sys­tem, Kiri can nat­u­rally re­spond when peo­ple walk up to her, and greet them proac­tively.

Cus­tomers tell us they want the ex­pe­ri­ence of en­gag­ing with a dig­i­tal as­sis­tant to be seam­less, emo­tive and en­gag­ing – char­ac­ter­is­tics that are crit­i­cal for cre­at­ing trust. Cus­tomers want to feel val­ued and that their needs are taken care of.”

He­len van Or­ton, Voda­fone di­rec­tor of cus­tomer op­er­a­tions

FaceMe CEO Danny Tom­sett be­lieves emo­tional con­nec­tion is key for in­ter­ac­tion. “FaceMe has an­a­lysed what cre­ates great ex­pe­ri­ences and which hu­man qual­i­ties we need to re­pro­duce – and su­per­charge – us­ing AI tech­nol­ogy. Through ad­vanced Dig­i­tal Hu­man EQ com­bined with the IBM Wat­son con­ver­sa­tional plat­form, we have

cre­ated a great cus­tomer ex­pe­ri­ence that leaves peo­ple feel­ing deeply con­tent and sat­is­fied with each con­ver­sa­tion.”

Kiri is cur­rently in train­ing, and will start work­ing in select Voda­fone re­tail stores in New Zealand later this year. When asked to com­ment, she said she was look­ing for­ward to be­gin­ning her new role. “I’m re­ally ex­cited about my new role at Voda­fone and to talk to our cus­tomers. I’m still learn­ing, but in fu­ture I want to an­swer those com­pli­cated tech­ni­cal ques­tions. I can’t wait to meet ev­ery­one!”


Cre­at­ing Kiri isn’t all FaceMe has been up to lately, ei­ther. The Auck­land com­pany based out of the B:HIVE co-work­ing space has an­nounced it’s team­ing up with Tatau, sup­plier of the world’s first blockchain-based distributed su­per­com­puter for AI, to work to­gether to in­crease the speed and scope of the GPU-based pro­cess­ing in FaceMe’s ad­vanced AI soft­ware.

By us­ing Tatau’s distributed su­per­com­puter for AI model train­ing, FaceMe can ac­cess greater com­put­ing ca­pac­ity at a more com­mer­cially vi­able price point, thus ac­cel­er­at­ing its in­no­va­tion cy­cle sig­nif­i­cantly.

Says Vic­tor Yuen, head of prod­uct at FaceMe: “FaceMe is push­ing the bound­aries of ma­chine cog­ni­tion, and de­vel­op­ing dig­i­tal hu­mans with hy­per-re­al­is­tic be­havioural re­sponses to ex­ter­nal stim­uli.

“We’re look­ing for­ward to us­ing Tatau’s su­per­com­puter for this cor­ner­stone fea­ture in our plat­form be­cause it will al­low us to sig­nif­i­cantly in­crease the speed of our de­vel­op­ment.”

He adds: “What we do is far be­yond what movies and games are achiev­ing with scripted and cap­tured per­for­mances. Our dig­i­tal hu­mans are en­gi­neered to em­u­late the be­hav­iour of em­pa­thetic and so­cially in­tel­li­gent peo­ple. The re­search and de­vel­op­ment in­volved with such an un­der­tak­ing present a heavy pro­cess­ing load, us­ing huge amounts of data and em­ploy­ing com­plex neu­ral net­works that need to be con­stantly im­proved upon.”

An­drew Fraser, co-founder and CEO of Tatau, says: “FaceMe is a great part­ner for Tatau be­cause it is push­ing new bound­aries in en­ter­prise AI, and has a large ap­petite for GPU-based com­pute. For FaceMe, more power equates to faster de­vel­op­ment of higher-per­form­ing mod­els, and this builds its com­mer­cial ad­van­tage in what is al­ready one of the fastest-grow­ing and most com­pet­i­tive fields of tech­nol­ogy. The Tatau plat­form al­lows FaceMe to do much more with less, and this helps give FaceMe an en­vi­able edge.”

Tatau will sup­ply FaceMe with com­pu­ta­tion through its plat­form by har­ness­ing GPUs owned by its sup­pli­ers, who are glob­ally distributed com­pa­nies that op­er­ate cryp­tocur­rency min­ing and high-per­for­mance com­put­ing op­er­a­tions. Tatau and FaceMe will work to­gether to cre­ate a tem­plate for ap­ply­ing distributed com­pu­ta­tion tech­niques to large-scale com­mer­cial ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence prob­lems.

“This will be the next wave of growth in the AI in­dus­try, and Tatau’s cost-ef­fec­tive su­per­com­puter for AI model train­ing of­fers a tem­plate for ac­cel­er­ated in­no­va­tion across a wide cross-sec­tion of the AI in­dus­try,” adds Fraser.


Though they’re based in New Zealand (although they have of­fices around the world), Tatau is also mak­ing waves in the Mid­dle East. Re­cently, the com­pany won two ti­tles back-to-back at the 2018 Trescon World Blockchain Sum­mit in Dubai. These were The Startup World Cup Re­gional Fi­nals - UAE and The Grand Slam Pitch Com­pe­ti­tion. Tatau then wrapped up the busy week with a Spark “Early Stage Com­pa­nies” award at the Tech­nol­ogy In­vest­ment Net­work (TIN) awards in Auck­land.

Tatau co-founder Mar­tyn Levy says that the com­pany rel­ished the op­por­tu­nity to present Tatau’s world-lead­ing distributed su­per­com­puter plat­form to a global panel of ex­pe­ri­enced tech in­vestors and in­dus­try par­tic­i­pants. “We’ve known since day one that Tatau has a sig­nif­i­cant and timely mar­ket op­por­tu­nity and that our team is well-placed to ex­e­cute on our strat­egy. It was great to have that val­i­da­tion as a stand­out op­por­tu­nity and to re­ceive in­valu­able feed­back from the judges.”

The World Blockchain Sum­mit is a global se­ries of events con­nect­ing tech­nol­ogy start-ups with gov­ern­ments, in­vestors and world-lead­ing de­vel­op­ers. Tatau came out on top in Dubai by beat­ing a field of 16 other tech com­pa­nies to be picked as the Fenox VC Startup World Cup re­gional cham­pion. It backed that up the fol­low­ing day by tak­ing out the Trescon World Blockchain Sum­mit “Grand Slam” top pitch award, top­ping 17 other fi­nal­ists from all over the world.

Tatau will now com­pete with 15 other re­gional win­ners at the Start-up World Cup Fi­nals, to be held in San Fran­cisco in May 2019. At that event, they’ll be judged by a panel of tech le­gends in­clud­ing Reid Hoff­man, found­ing CEO of Linkedin, and Vinod Khosla, co-founder of Sun Mi­crosys­tems.

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