- The startup UneeQ has created a website that lets anyone build one of their digital humans for free and start talking to it.
- The new site is a sign of the growing access to conversational artificial intelligence and highly realistic on-screen personas — making a conversation with a chatbot just that much more personal.
- UneeQ previously built a digital twin of a famous Swiss banker the investment bank UBS let clients engage with. It also counts BMW and Vodaphone as clients.
- UneeQ's CEO says digital humans can be easier to talk to about delicate subjects, such as mental health.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
A startup that makes highly realistic on-screen human personas – including a digital twin of a famous Swiss banker – has created a platform where anyone can create a digital human and talk to it for free.
The new site is an example of the growing affordability of conversational artificial intelligence and digital humans – a way to make interacting with software a little more personal.
UneeQ has been working on digital humans – the hyper-realistic on-screen robots that look and act like humans – since 2010. The firm has worked with BMW, Vodaphone, and top banks in New Zealand to set up the digital humans as customer service helpers, giving a persona to the chatbots that have previously often been simply a box to type into.
UneeQ has raised $11 million in venture capital, and boasts an artificial intelligence heavyweight — Salesforce's former head of AI, Richard Soucher — as an investor. A $5 million bridge round is coming soon, Tomsett says, and a Series B round is expected next year. The company has small offices in New Zealand, Austin, and San Francisco.
"This is a giant leap forward in conversational AI," says Danny Tomsett, founder and CEO of UneeQ. The company's digital human creator website "eliminates a complex, multimillion-dollar barrier-to-entry," he says, and compares it to the way Squarespace has helped companies to easily build websites.
The conversational AI market brought in $4 billion last year, according to Adroit Market Research, and is expected to grow 30% annually until 2025.
'Judgment actually comes in hand-in-hand with human conversation'
The point of having a digital human that can answer customer questions is "to create a human connection and better online experience," Tomsett tells Business Insider.
Some might say a highly realistic persona is still not a human, but Tomsett says digital humans actually have some advantages over the real McCoys. "Judgment actually comes hand-in-hand with human conversation, and with virtual humans we see a distinct advantage there."
In one case, Swiss investment bank UBS built a UneeQ digital human double of its chief economist, Daniel Kalt, that meets with clients. "He's a well-known individual in Switzerland and so they wanted to recreate him and make him available for anyone for financial advice so we recreated him," says Tomsett.
UneeQ Creator, the startup's new website, allows anyone to create a persona based on UneeQ's stock of nine diverse young men and women digital humans. The free trial allows anyone to bring one of the personas to life and have a conversation with it.
Companies that are impressed with the demo can connect the persona to their existing chatbot to integrate their natural language processing software. UneeQ says its platform integrates with major cloud platforms including Amazon Web Services Lex, Microsoft Bot Framework, IBM Watson Assistant, and others.
The free demo digital humans and $900-a-month versions are "off the rack" pre-made personas UneeQ sells, but more expensive versions are customizable.
In what the company says is a good example of the potential for the technology, legendary New Zealand rugby player Sir John Kirwan has used a UneeQ persona in a program to help people discuss depression.
"For many people struggling with their mental health, going to see a specialist comes with fear of the unknown, anxiety or is difficult due to a lack of finances," Kirwan said in a previous interview about the UneeQ platform.
UneeQ isn't the only one chasing this idea: In May, Japanese tech giant NTT announced new labs in Silicon Valley where it will build hyper-realistic digital twins of people for medical research. Those digital humans will be exact digital replicas of people for research purposes.