Soul Machines' Greg Cross on creatively designing conversations through tech

Soul Machines' Greg Cross on creatively designing conversations through tech

New Zealand company Soul Machines Limited - developer of emotionally responsive and intelligent avatars, and creator of digital human Sophie for Air New Zealand – is advertising for an intriguing position of a creative conversational designer (copywriter).

The ad asks for the candidate to have a strong understanding of and interest in narrative interactive experiences, a mastery of characterisation through concise, evocative dialogue and an understanding of how to combine narrative elements, dialogue, and interactive design to encourage user investment, among other skills.

Having never seen an ad like it, StopPress talked with Greg Cross, chief business officer, about the unique role and what it means for the capability of artificial intelligence (AI) in the future.

Greg Cross.

Personal conversations

“What we are doing at the highest level is creating customer experiences and we can create highly personalised customer experiences…this role is looking at how we create these unique and personal conversations,” says Cross.

He says just as each interaction between people is unique so should interaction between each individual and digital humans, such as AVA, Soul Machines and Autodesk's Virtual Agent.

“It should be unique, even if we’re asking exactly the same questions. There is content in the verbal and non-verbal communication between us that would make that conversation personal.”

While the role is different to what a normal copywriter might expect, Cross says Soul Machines creates lots of really unique and interesting jobs around AI technology.

“The technology has so many applications," he says. "...and as we start to look at those applications and the different skills and capabilities that are required to create them, build them and make them happen, we are creating all sorts of new jobs in our organisation."

"This is the first time we have advertised for this specific role - we only just invented it.”

Using an analogy between a screenwriter and an actor, Cross says the advertised role is the screenwriter, delivering the content, while the actor (digital human) creates a personal communication with the audience.

“We’re using our digital humans, or our avatars, to deliver content in a highly personalised and new way to anybody they talk to.”

The recruitment process

As part of the recruitment process for Soul Machines jobs, candidates are required to do a quiz, by Kiwi software company Weirdly, that will help identify those who are a good cultural fit for the organisation.

Cross says as Soul Machines tends to grow very fast, and in spurts, so it can end up bringing a lot of new people on board.

“It’s hard enough working out if people have the right skills and capabilities but trying to figure out whether they are a good cultural fit for our team environment is one of the biggest variables, and we found utilising the quiz has been extremely helpful for us as part of our recruitment process.”

Currently, the team sits at around 50 people but continues to grow as Soul Machines keeps bringing on more customers.

Cross says he wasn’t sure how many people have applied so far as a recruitment manager is running the process, however, adds that the industry enjoys interest from people wanting to join it.

“What we find is we’re a company that enjoys a good profile, we’re in a sector of the industry a lot of people are interested in and want to work in.”

He says Soul Machines tends to attract good quality applicants, and because this is a completely new role, it will attract people from a variety of different backgrounds and experiences, which is exactly what the company wants.

“There is no existing role out there that is directly linked to it, a person could come from a range of different industries and backgrounds.” 

New spaces

When Kiwi agency PHD’s book Merge: The Closing Gap Between Technology and Us discusses the human component, it says there is emerging evidence that the highest levels of performance are achieved when you pair humans with AI, giving the example of doctor’s working with IBM’s super-computer Watson.

So when asked if Soul Machines, and AI, are creating a new space for creatives Cross says absolutely.

“It’s a whole new area. Everyone talks about traditional media dying, it’s the rise and falls of different industries, different parts of the industries, different roles and different opportunities. You’re looking for people who have got the right attitude, want to learn and can demonstrate that they can learn fast. We’re creating new technology, new solutions and a new industry here, we’re all making it up as we go along.”

In saying this, he adds creativity and curiosity are key to the position, and to the company.

“Everywhere I look in this business what we’re doing inspires creativity…from working with chief executives to major corporates in Europe, and having discussions with some of the biggest celebrities in the world about how our technology might be able to change how they interact with their fans and customers,” says Cross.

“It comes down to this type of technology, and the potential for it is being driven by curiosity, wonder and ‘is this possible?'. Curiosity and creativity are very much thriving in what we do in the technology industry.”

This is echoed in an article by Molly St. Louis in Adweek about how jobs will transform in a post-AI world in which she says AI will create new jobs for those who are willing to embrace new technology.

For Soul Machines, ideally the role will be based in Auckland as are most of its staff, but this will depend on the right person. If it identifies the right person with the best skills, capability and experience, the company is open to them working remotely.

Cross adds the role will consist of working across different bands and different industries.

“At the end of the day, if we’re talking to a big bank or a technology company, they already know the information they want to impart to their customers, so the question then becomes how do we make that interesting, engaging and how do we create a personal experience around the communication of that content? At this point, we feel it’s a role that can cross a lot of boundaries.”

This story first appeared at StopPress.

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