My name is Vai, how can I help?

My name is Vai, how can I help?

A ‘digital’ biosecurity officer is assisting international visitors arriving at Auckland Airport in a world-first trial.

The first ever Digital Employee to be deployed at an airport, Auckland’s International Airport, is called Vai, which stands for Virtual Assistant Interface (Vai), and she started work last week.

Vai can see, hear and answer arriving international visitors’ questions.

Westpac’s Innovation Fund supported the development of Vai for the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI), while FaceMe, a New Zealand-based company specialising in AI, developed the technology.

“The idea is for her to take some of the load off MPI officers during peak times by answering simple biosecurity questions from the public,” says MPI’s detection technology manager, Brett Hickman.

“She can answer questions such as what items need to be declared for inspection and can provide help with directions around the airport,” Mr Hickman says.

FaceMe built the world-leading digital employee platform which offers companies customised Digital Employees. With training, these ‘employees’ can offer personalised service using natural language.

“They can also learn from every past interaction to sharpen and perfect their skills,” says FaceMe chief executive Danny Tomsett.

“Vai is highly conversational and has been trained through every interaction, as well as data available on the website. She embodies the AI experience with human like qualities, including a friendly personality and emotional understanding,’ Mr Hickman adds.

The Westpac Innovation Fund was born out of the All of Government banking tender and is a $10 million initiative set up as a joint program between Westpac and the New Zealand Government. The Innovation Fund invests in proposals that drive value for both the public sector and Westpac.

MPI is trialling Vai in the airport’s biosecurity arrivals area to see whether she will become a permanent asset in the team.

“Nothing can replace real human interaction and relationships but Vai frees up our officers’ time so they can deal with the really important aspects of their role,” Mr Hickman says.

The Innovation Fund saw the value in supporting the trialling of this technology to assess the readiness and effectiveness of how artificially intelligent avatars could be used across parts of government. The FaceMe solution not only includes digital graphics, and understanding of emotion, but also a database of interactions and structured knowledge that is used to inform decisions.

Westpac’s head of public sector strategy, Brent Chalmers, says the Innovation Fund helps government agencies to solve problems and uncover new opportunities using smarter and faster approaches.

“The aim is to help create services and experiences that help grow a better and more innovative New Zealand,” says Mr Chalmers.

“Westpac does more than just fund ideas, we offer in-house and external expertise across a number of disciplines. In particular, we can help refine the thinking and approach by coaching candidates to help turn their ideas into real world outcomes.”

The findings from the trial are expected to be published in April 2018.

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