A Canadian AI startup, Twenty Billion Neurons Gmbh (or TwentyBN for short), is touting a virtual salesperson called Millie to major retail brands that are looking for ways to boost flagging in-store sales. Millie is trained to recognize what people are doing and interact with them in ways that will drive up sales.
Millie was unveiled at the NeurIPS 2018, a major AI conference in Montreal. The life-size digital avatar created by TwentyBN “is just like a game character, but with the difference that it can see you and respond,” says Roland Memisevic, CEO of TwentyBN. “It’s really something new and exciting that shoppers are going to want to see.”
Millie appears on a slightly larger-than-life screen, makes eye contact and tracks one’s movement with her gaze to tell where in the store a customer is looking and respond accordingly. Speech recognition and natural language processing software allow her to understand and answer simple questions or have a back-and-forth conversation with the same fluency as Alexa.
Millie can also act as a store greeter and show customers how to use products like tech hardware or sports equipment. She even learns to recognize frequent visitors by name with the help of facial recognition technology. Reviewers of the new avatar were entirely sold. However, “it’s just a promotion system right now,” and Millie’s communication skills are a bit “crude and basic,” they said.
The idea, however, isn’t new. Amazon is already testing stores where vision software alleviates the need for checkout. Also at NeurIPS, Alibaba demoed software that takes spoken orders from customers in Chinese KFC restaurants.