Last updated 05:00, July 10 2018
ANZ has birthed its first “digital person”.
Jamie, an AI invention styled as a 25-year-old New Zealand woman, started work on Tuesday morning.
Jamie’s first job is to chat with customers on the 30 questions the bank gets asked most often by customers.
Though “she” is capable of learning, it’s “moderated” learning, so customers trying to teach Jamie swear words, or bad habits, will fail.
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But chatting with Jamie for a few minutes results in her dropping hints that there’s something more to her than a series of rote answers.
Ask her about her weekend, and she may tell you she enjoys ice dance.
That’s because Jamie (conversation with whom is a bit stilted, though she’s still learning) has a back story, created to make her feel more human.
That’s important, as digital people often inhabit what is termed the “uncanny valley”. They are a lot like real people, but are different enough to be a bit creepy.
There’s a trend for digital humans built for corporations to be avatars of young women, often with gender neutral names like Alex, or in this case Jamie.
But ANZ has a film-maker called Kirsten Marcon (maker of movies like She’s Racing, Picnic Stops, and The Most Fun You Can Have Dying) among its ranks, who have imagined a life for Jamie, with hobbies and enthusiasms that she can get down to when she goes home in the evening.
“We wanted Jamie’s personality to be appropriate for a Kiwi woman of 25, to match the appearance of our avatar,” said Don Whiteside, the man at ANZ who lead the project to create Jamie, in conjunction with the Soul Machines technology company.
“Developing her personality was fun. As we’ve worked on her over the last few months, it’s slowly become easier to answer the question: ‘What would Jamie say?'”
“We’ve been able to craft her taste in things like books, movies, and what she likes to do in her time off.”
“Jamie is a little bit of a geek, especially about banking and science fiction.”
The love of science fiction she got from Whiteside himself.
Liz Maguire, head of digital and transformation at ANZ said Jamie could help increase “digital inclusiveness” by making it easier for customers to engage digitally with the bank.
“While we know many of our customers love connecting through our existing digital channels, we have been talking face to face a lot longer than we’ve been using small screens.”
Fully a third of ANZ customers do not use digital channels, meaning they use branches and the telephone to do their banking.
“Through the trial, we want to see if Jamie will appeal to those who might not be as comfortable using our other digital channels,” Maguire said.
Greg Cross from Soul Machines has a much grander hope for digital humans. It’s no less than the democratisation of services.
The “Varian Rule” (named after Google economist Hal Varian) says if you look at what rich people have today, that is what middle-income people will have in 10 years time, and poor people in 20 years.
Private personal bankers, expert tutors for the children, and fast, responsive healthcare are all things the rich enjoy.
The development of digital humans, Cross believed, could make those things available to middle-income earners, and one day, lower-income earners.
Jamie’s got a lot more learning to do to get there, and to haul herself out of the uncanny valley.
“How we move forward with this new technology is going to be very much guided by what our customers and staff tell us they want,” Maguire said.