WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
Digital humans and avatars are becoming more realistic and life-like in the way they behave, move, and talk, and now they’re helping students in all kinds of new ways.
We’ve all seen digital humans, CGI generated digital replicas of humans that have Artificial Intelligence (AI) neural network brains and which are increasingly so life-like that they’re difficult to distinguish from real people. And we’ve all seen Will, the digital human who’s been teaching over 250,000 children in Australia all about renewable energy.
However, just as every teacher needs a boss Will it seems also has a new boss, kind of, after a team in the US created what appears to be the world’s first ever digital university president.
It’s tough being a college student in the US these days. The stresses of studying, pandemic rules, exorbitant fees, and douchebags with guitars can make for trying times. But don’t worry say the creators, AI has arrived to alleviate your worries – meet your new digital university president.
Meet the new UNLV virtual president!
The clone in question is an expertly crafted digital twin of Keith Whitfield, the real life human president of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV).
“I had this kind of grandiose desire to talk to every single student, and I think I said that and the whole room just got quiet and said, ‘he’s lost his mind’,” Whitfield told 13 Action News.
The president presumably brushed aside their concerns though and then went looking for a way to create an AI doppelganger. After recruiting the services of the AI Media Lab for a bargain $125,000 he then headed to the studio where he spent around eight hours reading information about UNLV, reciting questions for students, and talking about himself.
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AI Media Lab used the recordings and 3D images of Whitfield to create his avatar and then the virtual mentor was then unleashed on the lucky UNLV students. To seek his guidance, all they need to do is turn on their microphone and agree to two privacy policies, along with just one terms of service.
Load him up and seconds later you have a life-like digital president on your screen.
“My goal is to help you through your experience at UNLV by answering questions, directing you to resources, and helping you with whatever you might be going through,” he starts off saying.
Virtual Whitfield also tries to accommodate students every need according to reports and can do things such as revealing the real presidents favourite spot on campus, giving students tips on studying dystopian tech, and he’s even amiable to requests for drugs.
All of which means that there’s some fine tuning to do, however, when students ask hm about love he replies:
“I am not currently married.”
Perhaps we shouldn’t be too critical of this first attempt though. The digital pres is pretty smooth and he does recommend resources for mental health, financial aid, and career advice, although a simple search function could have provided that more swiftly.
While students are finding the virtual president more personable than a chatbot and reports so far have been complimentary we’ll have to wait and see how he gets on and whether he, it, is the beginning of a new trend in education.