Digital Humans – Helpful Assistants or Deceptive Trust-Creators

Digital humans are increasingly being used to interact with real humans. The question is, are they helpful assistants, or is there something dishonest about their ‘employment’?

Nola, Jamie, Sam, Bella and their virtual siblings are examples of digital humans.  Developed by New Zealand company Soul Machines Nola, Bella and company are currently used in customer service, financial management, training, healthcare, education and entertainment.  Soul Machines co-founder Greg Cross contends that digital humans are built to make the lives or organic humans simpler.  The question is, are Nola and company helpful assistants, or is there something dishonest about their ‘employment’?

For Greg Cross and Soul machines CEO Mark Sagar, A.I. is more trusted and more easily assimilated into our daily lives the more human-like it is.  Produced by digitised nodal networks and muscles that are based on the patterns and structure of our organic human neurons and muscles, the facial expressions, gestures, verbal and non-verbal responses of digital humans are very relatable.  Indeed, the digital human Bella became a “front-line responder” gaining the trust of New Zealanders during uncertain times as the Covid-19 pandemic brought lock-down and social discombobulation.

When the World Health Organisation were introduced to Bella and her digital siblings, they were so impressed that they partnered with Soul Machines to develop their own digital health worker, Florence.  Like Bella, Florence is useful for giving up to date information and dispelling fake news and myths about Covid-19.  Florence is also being ‘employed’ (or should that be ‘deployed’?) to help one billion people quit using tobacco.

Digital humans such as Florence and Bella, ‘see’ through the web cameral and ‘hear’ through the microphone.  They have facial recognition technology and machine learning ability.  The goal is to develop flexible intelligence that enables the AI to interpret and simulate human emotion.  But is this honest?

Machines have replaced humans for centuries now; people used to dig holes, not mechanical differs.  However, machines have always looked like machines.  Why are computers being made to be human-like?

Technology generally is developing rapidly and taking less time to be widely adopted.

Is what we are contemplating with digital humans any different to what people have faced since the Industrial Revolution, or is there something different about this?

Healthcare and education have been identified as growth areas for the use of digital humans.  Are digital humans similar to the automated diggers and machinery of the past, or should we be thinking deeply about digital humans replacing our bank tellers, doctors and teachers?  Is it dishonest to convey a digital human as compassionate and caring when it has no feelings at all?   Are we setting up a falsehood in a way that has never been done before?

For Discussion and exploration

What positives and negatives can you see as we move toward interacting with digital humans on a daily basis?

Why do you think Cross and Sagar chose Soul Machines as the name of their company?

Why are the vast majority of digital humans female?

Technology has given us access to simulated worlds.  Are digital humans an extension of this or different?

“Human co-operation with intelligent machines will define the next era of history”

– Mark Sagar, CEO, Soul Machines.


Research shows that elderly folk who have ‘A.I.-Aiders’ in nursing homes are happier than those who don’t.

Does this say more about the nursing home or about A.I.?

Soul Machines produce two types of digital humans – the fully created synthetics such as Nola and Bella; and the digital ‘twin’, which is a replica of a real person.  One example of the digital twin was created for entertainer was keen to have his fans be able to interact with him on a one-to-one basis.

Has he succeeded?

So impressed was with his digital ‘twin’ that he said it need to be a bit ‘robotic’ so that it didn’t fool his mother.

Should we always know when it is a digital human we are interacting with?

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