There is a new company name Soul Machines. They make artificial intelligent digital people that are intended to be an active workforce for the metaverse. Whether you think the metaverse is the actual future, just a buzz word or complete nonsense is for another post or podcast. What interests me is whether Soul Machines can actually make a persona that can be genuinely helpful to others.
I got my introduction to Soul Machines in an article written by Alexis On on The Verge titled “This Company is Making Digital Humans to Serve the Metaverse” In the article Alexis is interviewing co-founder Greg Cross. Cross steails that they are targeting healthcare and education. They are not looking to replace those people but to work alongside. I guess to handle very low level questions.
I also imagine that Soul Machines will work with specific companies to program their digital assistants with specific knowledge of that specific company. They have a video below of what could be.
On their website you can talk to Viola, so why not. How smart is their AI? I made some rules first:
- Ask general knowledge questions that it should “know”
- Ask follow up contextual questions – for example: Who is the President of the USA? Where does he live?
- If it cannot answer a question I will move on
- I will speak slowly and clearly
You can see my “interview” at the top of the post. Basically the digital person is not very smart or all that helpful. It was programmed to bull information from YouTube, Wolfram Alpha and a few other sources, but I was surprised about how often Viola misheard me or was not able to answer very basic facts.
AI has a looooong way to go. As for used for basic information it could be helpful but I fear it will cause more frustration when it mishears or misunderstands the question. I cannot imagine a school district using Soul Machines as supplemental tutors or a way for students to get extra help or extra practice while at home or even at school.
Students just need too much contextual information such as a silent head nod or subtle gesture from an adult or peer to reassure them or let them know if they’re on the right track or not. The learning curve is just too high for everyone involved. What I mean about that is that students will have to learn how to interact with the Digital Person, teachers will have to learn what a Digital Person can and cannot do so when they instruct students and families to use it as a resource they know that something will be achieved. Schools and districts will need to know what realistic gains can be achieved rolling this out as a wide scale project.
As it stands now – this nothing more than a research project that offers little value to schools or districts. Be skeptical if Soul Machines or other companies come knocking on your door. Make sure they erase all doubts and shadows of doubts about what they are offering and what you can achieve with it before moving forward.
Technology is exciting and it is easy to get caught up in the hype and buzz words, so be careful and keep your students’ best interest in mind.