Chatbot History: The Nadia Chatbot

Last Updated on November 10, 2020 by Sean B

The Nadia chatbot was an incredible project that sadly ended before it truly started. People are starting to accept the idea of non-living things being intelligent, but society is not yet ready to accept that machines can possess emotional intelligence. Like it or not, machines are able to detect, identify, and even show emotions as of now, and one of the very first chatbots to do that was Nadia.

Nadia was a project undertaken and completed by Soul Machines, a company based in New Zealand, for their client the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) in Australia. The agency was also where the Nadia got her name.

This incredible chatbot was not only capable of portraying human emotions through its eerily life-like avatar but could also “read” human expressions. The purpose behind developing Nadia and equipping it with the ability to read and display emotions is to make human-machine interaction as real and natural as it can get. The goal was achieved by making the bot look like a human in every possible aspect.

How Does the Nadia Chatbot Work?

Nadia was quite a bit possessive about her name and liked to be addressed as Nadia or she. She used webcams that took a picture of the user, and then her algorithms compare the image with the data of other people’s images showing different emotions. It allowed her to detect what emotion a user might have been dealing with when they talked to her.

The Nadia Chatbot also tried to reproduce the best possible emotional response to meet the user’s needs. This feat was accomplished with both the words Nadia spoke, but also via the facial expressions on the avatar. This made the users more comfortable, as they started to see Nadia as more than an emotionless machine. They saw her as a being with the ability to read and respond to emotions.

How Nadia Keeps Improving?

Nadia learns over time, just like other AI chatbots. But she differed in that she could also improve her emotional intelligence as she interacted with more and more people. The Nadia chatbot kept a record of every person it interacts with and then uses that data to better judge and express emotions in her next interactions with humans.

As of now, it has grown enough emotional intelligence that if a user changes tone or starts displaying different emotions all of a sudden, Nadia can detect that and can come up with an appropriate response that’s almost indistinguishable from an actual human response. It is inherently designed to be sympathetic and respond with a reaction that is emotionally supportive for the user.

Cate Blanchett, the voice of the Nadia Chatbot, next to a shot of Nadia.

Who Created Nadia?

Nadia chatbot is the brainchild of Mark Sagar, the CEO of Soul Machines, who is also director of Laboratory for Animate Technologies at Auckland Bioengineering Institute and an assistant professor at the University of Auckland. Sagar is not your everyday professor or chatbot developer. Sagar has been in this game for a long time now and is an academy award winner for the techniques he introduced for facial motion capture in the movies Avatar and King Kong.

It is Sagar’s experience with facial motion detection and emotion tracking that makes Nadia life-like to the point that it actually becomes creepy. However, there’s no need to be afraid of Nadia because she is just a friendly piece of code trying to make life easier for people with special needs rather than being a rogue robot trying to take over the world and implement a new robotic world order.

The chatbot Nadia is voiced by none other than world-famous Australian actress Cate Blanchett.

Who Backed the Development of Nadia?

Nadia was developed by the funding provided by the Australian government with the aim to provide services to people with disabilities. Specially challenged people can use Nadia to get to the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and get the information they might need. The aim of this friendly chatbot is to improve the level of service for them.

The need for Nadia was felt following the difficulty disabled people had to face at the hands of the NDIS bureaucracy as the system was outdated and slow. Nadia was hence developed and deployed to make things easier by introducing more “human” help into the system without having to hire an army of support personnel.

Nadia and the Future of Chatbots

What Professor Sagar has achieved with Nadia is just the beginning of what chatbots can be made able to do. It has opened a pathway towards the development of humanoid creatures, which will have no limits. As a matter of fact, Professor Sagar’s own firm, Soul Machines, is currently working to create such a robot for some other client. If this thing goes mainstream, the entire landscape of the customer service industry will be changed forever. Imagine not having to go to an office to see a customer service agent. You can just go to their webpage or app and interact with “someone” who’ll listen to you and respond to what you are saying just like an actual human.

Sadly, Nadia herself seems to have had some issues politically and the project was taken down in September 2017. At the time she was taken offline, there were rumors of a number of different problems with the project actually, but Nadia’s problems were never fully revealed. Her future is unclear at this time.

You can watch a demonstration of Nadia here.

If you’re interested in interacting with some of the descendants of Nadia over at Soul Machines, you can request a demo here.

In Conclusion

We have a lot of chatbots that have some sort of intelligence built into them. Some are great at marketing while others undertake the job of customer service and do it quite well. One thing we never expected bots to possess was emotional intelligence, and Nadia is that one bot, which has proved that chatbots can be programmed to detect, respond to, and portray emotions just like humans do. It is an important step in the development of chatbots and AI. The ramifications of this technological marvel might be a negative impact on the jobs of people in the customer service industry, but for companies trying to provide the best possible customer care, this is a very promising leap forward of the technology.

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2 thoughts on “Chatbot History: The Nadia Chatbot”

  1. Hi Sean,

    Chatbots are so fascinating, and I never knew any of them had or even could have any kind of emotional factor worked into it all, much less to the degree that Nadia did.

    I can definitely see the advantages that Nadia and similar chatbots could have for people with disabilities, and the benefits she/they would/could add to the whole landscape of customer services are clear. However, I also wonder about how mainstream use of these chatbots would change the employment landscape too.

    You point out that companies can use them instead of hiring a ton of people to work customer service, but then that also potentially takes away all of those potential jobs.

    I’m not sure it’s necessarily going to be a bad thing in the long-term, but it’s interesting to think about how jobs, employment, and society in general will change as we rely more and more on technology to take over labor needs.

    • Jade,

      Thanks for the comment, you’re absolutely right, there is the potential t lose jobs with chatbots becoming more available. But I believe that would be a very short term situation, and since every company wouldn’t be adopting this new technology at the same time, it wouldn’t have a wide impact. Eventually the low paying jobs lost would be replaced with higher paying jobs, and likely more of those jobs would be available due to the economic growth.

      The positions that are being taken over by chatbots are typically the kinds of positions that are contracted out to other firms and are low paying to begin with. A good example is a Customer Service Operator, these positions typically pay minimum wage if they are within the US, and the company pays a firm three times that or sometimes far more for the time actually used. Small businesses putting a chatbot to work on their website instead of relying on farming that work out could put the extra funds toward more inventory which could mean more sales, which in the end would mean more jobs.

      Plus there are the new jobs of creating and maintaining these chatbots. These are high tech positions, and the new industry is already growing rapidly. As these Virtual Assistants become more integrated into our homes and autos, as well as everywhere we shop, we’ll see thousands of new jobs created each year in this arena. Some of these jobs will pay well over 6 figures.

      Like you said, the long-term looks good, but the short term will hurt for a few. However most of those call center firms will be able to pivot to new industries fairly quickly. In fact, some of them will likely pivot to support chatbots with a higher paid live chat backup that costs a flat rate per hour instead of a subscription plus an hourly cost.



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