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You can talk to this new digital re-creation of Albert Einstein

Just don’t expect him to do much more than answer some basic questions about the real Einstein’s life and achievements.

You can talk to this new digital re-creation of Albert Einstein
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A maker of “digital humans” for customer service and chat applications has developed a digital version of Albert Einstein that you can talk to, either by speaking or typing.

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The company, New Zealand- and Austin-based UneeQ, worked with Hebrew University to get the Nobel Prize-winning physicist’s look, voice, and mannerisms right, Daryl Reva, its senior VP of marketing, told me. Wolfram Research, the creator of the WolframAlpha “computational intelligence” tool, contributed the natural language engine and knowledge base that acts as the digital human’s brain, Reva says.

If you’d like to ask Albert some questions, click here.

Since the Einstein character wasn’t designed for open-ended chats (UneeQ has another digital human called Sophie for that), he won’t answer just any question, but seems to respond best to questions on a finite set of subjects. You can ask digital Einstein questions about the theory of relativity and about his early life, for example.

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I asked him how he does his hair, and he was ready for me. “I had more important things to do than picking out clothes and fixing my hair,” he replied.

My colleagues and I found that UneeQ’s Einstein could speak only to a narrow set of questions, and when he could provide answers, they were brief and shallow. It was pretty easy to ask questions that he either deflected or answered in a way that didn’t make him look like such a genius. I asked “Were you a teacher?” and up popped a box containing a WolframAlpha search result for the 2013 movie A Teacher.  Ask about his wife, Elsa, and he responds: “I’m sorry I wasn’t able to help you today. I am not connected to a service that allows you [to] connect with a real human just yet.”

I was impressed with the humanness of Einstein’s face, although the movements of the facial muscles and surfaces seemed a bit less than natural. The sound of the voice seemed like a believable high-fidelity version of the poorly recorded voice we hear on old films of Einstein talking. And that makes sense: The look of the face is UneeQ’s main product. The company’s digital humans are meant to provide a human front end to the natural language processing engines its customers already use, provided in some cases as cloud services from companies such as Microsoft and Amazon.

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UneeQ is one of a set of companies that believe that conversations with digital humans mark the next frontier in customer service and chat interactions.

UneeQ is releasing its Einstein bot to mark the 100th anniversary of the real Einsten’s Nobel Prize in physics. Reva says that the goal of the project was to demonstrate that digital humans could provide companionship to people who are isolated and deprived of social contact, such as during a pandemic. He said his company believes digital humans like Einstein might have health and well-being applications. For me to believe that, the digital human would have to have brains that are far smarter and more versatile than those displayed by this computer-generated physicist.

About the author

Fast Company Senior Writer Mark Sullivan covers emerging technology, politics, artificial intelligence, large tech companies, and misinformation. An award-winning San Francisco-based journalist, Sullivan's work has appeared in Wired, Al Jazeera, CNN, ABC News, CNET, and many others.

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