Meet Auckland Airport's first 'digital' biosecurity officer

“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,” says Brett Hickman, detection technology officer at the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI).

Vai, which stands for Virtual Assistant Interface (Vai), has been on the job for a week and is the first ever digital employee to be deployed at an airport.

“The idea is for her to take some of the load off our officers during peak times by answering simple biosecurity questions from the public,” says Hickman.

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

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

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

Watch Vai on Youtube.

Westpac’s Innovation Fund supported the development of Vai for the MPI, while FaceMe, a Kiwi firm specialising in AI, developed the technology.

Vai was built using FaceMe’s digital employee platform which offers companies customised digital employees. With training, these ‘employees’ can offer personalised service using natural language.

FaceMe’s avatar technology uses biometrics to learn human interactions and will interact accordingly to ease the customer’s experience.

“Digital employees also learn from every past interaction to sharpen and perfect their skills,” says FaceMe CEO and winner of theSir Richard Branson ‘Virgin Business challenge’DannyTomsett.

“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.”

FaceMe, which was recognised at the ‘Deloitte Fast 50’ NZ awards as one of the country’s fastest growing businesses, believes the market for AI will grow beyond $47 billion per year.

FaceMe says it has pilot customers across banking, government and telecommunications.

AI will be taking away routine tasks, freeing up employees to be more productive and creative by doing what humans can do best.Gartner

Analyst firm Gartner, meanwhile, points out now is the time for organisations to assess their long-term AI direction.

“For the greatest value, focus on augmenting people with AI. We are at the pivotal point: Where will AI go? This is up to you mdash; you will choose the problems for AI to solve. We say: ‘Enrich people's jobs, reimagine old tasks and create new industries,’” reports Gartner in its Predicts 2018: AI and the Future of Work.

Gartner says continuous learning for staff is important.

“AI will be taking away routine tasks, freeing up employees to be more productive and creative by doing what humans can do best. Invest in reinforcing agility, soft skills and creative innovative attributes that will be needed in the symbiotic culture of people and AI.”

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