Auckland-based digital human developer Soul Machines has signed a five-year agreement with Microsoft to take artificial intelligence in new directions.
Under the agreement, Soul Machines will migrate its applications to Microsoft's Azure cloud and the two companies will collaborate on new products.
Greg Cross, co-founder and chief business officer at Soul Machines, said the business was looking for a tech partner that could help accelerate its growth in markets such as the US as well as support ongoing research and development.
The company was officially launched in 2016 after being founded by University of Auckland's Dr Mark Sagar and his team at the Auckland Bioengineering Institute. While still private, it now has a moderately broad ownership after a series of funding rounds.
Soul Machines has established a reputation for its lifelike CGI characters and autonomous animation platform, which uses artificial intelligence (AI) and neuroscientific principles to reflect human behaviors and emotions in conversation with real people.
Digital cookie coach and brand ambassador Ruth is one example, providing an interactive baking experience to customers of Nestle’s baking brand Toll House. The World Health Organisation, meanwhile, employs Florence, a multilingual healthcare assistant who gives advice on COVID and how to quit smoking.
“In Microsoft, we saw an organisation that shared our principles with regards to responsible AI, a leader in cognitive services, machine learning, and in relationship-building," Cross said.
"This isn’t just an agreement to use Microsoft services – it will be a partnership in every sense of the word. This represents the next phase in Soul Machines’ evolution as a company, which will help us take our AI and innovation to the world at a whole new level."
From a digital workforce that delivered the future of customer experience, digital twins of celebrities that enable fans around the world to engage with their heroes, accessible healthcare assistants and a fully immersive virtual metaverse where children could interact with their favorite toys and book characters, the possibilities were endless.
Microsoft’s global general manager strategy and commercialisation for Azure and AI platforms, Ali Dalloul, said the partnership illustrated the power of AI in pushing the boundaries of technology and democratising access.
“For us, this is about innovating with AI to support humanity," he said. "As the world increasingly uses digital technologies like AI to address major global challenges or provide better services and more equitable access, collaboration on what this future looks like is essential."
Partnering with Soul Machines was a tremendously important opportunity to learn from each other and to "co-innovate" new solutions that made life easier and better for people around the world, he said.