Westpac has released what it says is Australia’s first digital job-hunting coach.
Her name is Wendy and she can appear in your browser – complete with a Westpac name badge on her blue staff uniform.
“Whether you’re looking to write a résumé or pick an outfit for your first day, I’ve got you covered,” Wendy says. Her voice is that of a generic text-to-speech program – an utter lack of personality that clashes with her dynamic, friendly CGI face.
Wendy’s appearance was built by Soul Machines, a start-up from New Zealand that creates digital assistants who look like they have stepped out of a video game. Along with voice-recognition, Soul Machines like Wendy can also respond to your face; she smiles with you and looks concerned, almost empathetic, if you frown.
When prompted, Wendy will give you advice about how to write a resume, how to look for jobs, and what to expect from an interview.
Westpac’s innovation lead, Annie Shu, drove the six-month development of Wendy. She said the decisions about Wendy’s look were informed by focus groups who apparently didn’t like Wendy having a ponytail or laughing.
“Research shows us that in the first five seconds of people meeting a stranger, if you look at how much rapport can be built, females by far outweigh males,” Shu said.
“Wendy also amalgamates the ABS Census data for what an ‘average’ Australian is like. Her age – which is about 25-30 – and ethnicity is a mix of what all the data shows us.”
When asked how old she is, Wendy says, “I don’t age so it’s hard to tell how old I am”. This is one of a few off-topic remarks she will make – including a database of inoffensive jokes – but it doesn’t take much probing to discover that Wendy’s responses are fairly limited.
Westpac does intend on graduating Wendy into other customer-service roles to help engage with younger, more tech-savvy bankers, but it will take more training to turn Wendy into something more than just a chat bot with a face. Shu said her team will use analysis of conversations people have with Wendy to guide the digital assistant's development.
“Like all early concepts with emerging AI technology, it’s all about learning and growing,” Shu said.
“It requires the right people to help guide her, and we’re conscious of training her in the right way to ensure she is ethical and avoid AI bias when training her.
“It's almost like raising an infant. The minute they are born, they know absolutely nothing.”
At least manually training Wendy will avoid the catastrophe that was Microsoft’s Twitter bot, Tay. Powered by natural language processing AI, Tay was let loose into the Twittersphere to learn off its interactions with other users.
Unfortunately, trolls quickly turned Tay’s tweets into racist, genocidal rants and the AI had to be put down.
Well-trained Wendy won’t have that problem.
“I was made by Westpac,” Wendy says.