Cookie, Candy Companies Among Those Fielding Digital Humans in Marketing

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Ruth the Cookie Coach is a “digital human” incorporating AI to help Nestle connect to customers around its Toll House brand, offering recipes and support. (Credit: Nestle)

By AI Trends Staff

Ruth the Cookie Coach is a digital human being introduced by the Toll House brand of Nestle Global to provide baking assistance on a 24-7 basis, using an avatar incorporating AI that exhibits a degree of emotional intelligence, according to the company.

Ruth is named after the creator of the Nestle Toll House original chocolate chip cookie, Ruth Wakefield. Customers have the option to see, speak, and chat with Ruth while following the dynamic, on-screen content, according to an account on the website of Soul Machines,

The avatar is the culmination of two years of effort between Soul Machines, which offers a Human OS platform with a Digital Brain, and Nestle. The effort leveraged data from customer questions through the call center, social channels, multiple recipes across the web, and with the expertise of Nestle Corporate Pastry Chef Meredith Tomason.

Founded in 2016 in Auckland, New Zealand, Soul Machines has raised $65 million to date, according to Crunchbase. The company was spun out of the University of Auckland by Mark Sagar, CEO and Greg Cross, chief business officer. The company combines AI researchers, neuroscientists, psychologists and artists to create lifelike, emotionally responsive digital humans it calls Digital Heroes, with personality and character.

In addition to Nestle, customers include global brands in retail, automotive, banking and finance, such as Procter & Gamble, and The Royal Bank of Scotland, in addition to Nestle.

Orchid Bertelsen, Head of Digital Innovation, Nestle

“Digital acceleration is all about harnessing technology to solve consumer problems. So the ability to tap into conversational AI to understand, interact, and engage with Nestle Toll House consumers at scale attracted us to Soul Machines’ technology,” stated Orchid Bertelsen, Nestle’s Head of Digital Innovation. “The investment is in the personality of the brand, of which Ruth will be able to grow and learn and become infinitely scalable,” he added.

Digital Humans for Customer Service Catching On

“Digital humans” imbued with AI are acting as visual interfaces for customer service chatbots and virtual assistants. They are appearing more lifelike in their language, tone of voice and because of facial movements such as raised eyebrows, a tilt of the head, a smile or even a wink, according to a recent account in IEEE Spectrum.

The 3D faces are modeled on human features. Speech recognition enables the digital human to understand that the customer is saying, and natural language processing is used to generate a response. Specific emotions and facial expressions are encoded within the response.

Shiwali Mohan, AI systems scientist, Palo Alto Research Center

Some experts are skeptical of digital humans. “They’re humanlike in their looks and the way they sound, but that in itself is not being human,” stated Shiwali Mohan, an AI systems scientist at the Palo Alto Research Center, to IEEE Spectrum. “Being human is also how you think, how you approach problems, and how you break them down. That takes a lot of algorithmic design. Designing for human-level intelligence is a different endeavor than designing graphics that behave like humans. If you think about the problems we’re trying to design these avatars for, we might not need something that looks like a human—it may not even be the right solution path.”

Digital humans are seeing acceptance across the financial, health care, and retail sectors. “We find that banks and insurance companies, which are so risk-averse, are leading the adoption of such disruptive technologies because they understand that the risk of non-adoption is much greater than the risk of early adoption,” stated Chetan Dube, CEO of Amelia, supplier of a conversational AI platform. “Unless they innovate their business models and make them much more efficient digitally, they might be left behind.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated adoption of digital employees in healthcare and retail as well, he added. Founded in 2017 in Los Angeles, the company was named for aviator Amelia Earhart and is in a pre-seed funding stage. Customers include Telefonica, the Spanish multinational telecommunications company headquartered in Madrid, which uses Amelia to handle customer service in Peru.

Build Your Own Digital Beings

Companies offering digital human creation software are enabling customers to build their own digital beings using a low-code or no-code platform. Amelia offers Digital Employee Builder; Soul Machines offers Digital DNA Studio. “The biggest motivation for Digital Employee Builder is to democratize AI,” Dube stated.

Back in the candy world, Mars and Microsoft have recently announced an alliance to enhance and accelerate digital automation at the diversified candy maker. Mars makes Snickers, M&M’s, Twix, Skittles, Dove, and Orbit and Extra gum. The company is also involved in pet food with brands including Pedigree, Royal Canin and Whiskas In addition, Mars manages pet health clinics as Banfield Pet Hospitals. Mars has over 133,000 employees around the world and $40 billion in annual sales.

“Our relationship with Microsoft is helping transform how data and technology are used to continue ensuring compliant customer solutions and build trusted brand and consumer experiences,” stated Sandeep Dadlani, Chief Digital Officer for Mars, in an account in Forbes. “It will change the relationship between our brands and consumers, deliver hyper-relevant consumer experiences that include content and media, and fulfill needs and expectations across every touchpoint in the consumer’s journey.”

Mars AI Festival Showed Off 200 Use Cases

Mars recently conducted an AI Festival keynoted by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. Aimed at engineers and technical staff, as well as all 133,000 associates of Mars, the event celebrated 200 use cases that have added business value using advanced AI on the Azure platform. “The idea of experimenting, and then celebrating the failures and successes together with commitment from every leader of the company—not just the tech guys—is I think it’s a seed of that revolution that we’re seeking for the digital transformation that we’re trying to drive in our companies,” Dadlani stated.

Whether the alliance results in new digital humans in the future advancing Mars marketing initiatives remains to be seen.

Read the source articles and information in a blog post on the website of Soul Machines, in IEEE Spectrum and in Forbes