NZ Police

New Zealand Police Enlist Virtual AI Officer

The New Zealand police department has recruited an artificial intelligence named Ella as its newest officer. Ella combines AI with real-time animation to mimic in-person interactions between citizens and the police.

Kiwi Robocop

Ella, pictured above, started her first shift this week in the lobby of the Wellington headquarters for New Zealand’s police. The animated AI’s role is to greet visitors, help them get their guest passes, and let the police know who has arrived. Ella is also able to answer some questions posed by visitors about how to contact the police and how officers are trained. Ella was designed and built by New Zealand AI developers Intela AI and Soul Machines. According to the New Zealand police, Ella can deduce from body language and tone of voice the best way to speak with people who come to the police station. The police are conducting a three-month pilot test with Ella and will assess how the AI is performing in May.

“Her capabilities are basic at this stage as she is a Proof of Concept, but we see some real benefits of digital person technology if we can equip the AI with more knowledge and capabilities, and it can learn from more interactions,” said New Zealand Commissioner of Police Mike Bush in a statement. “This trial is designed to help Police understand if a digital person makes sense in a policing context, but Ella could eventually provide a variety of non-emergency services and advice in more places and on more devices, such as the NZ Police app and Police Connect.”

AI Government Services

Ella’s AI and interactivity are not ground-breaking. There are plenty of AI platforms that can handle straightforward communication and answering questions, while the video animation mimicry looks like a more polished version of how video filters on Instagram and Snapchat operate. What makes Ella noteworthy is the way these technologies are being deployed by a governmental body to help improve its performance. An AI greeter is one less police officer needed to man the front desk, while still maintaining an ersatz face-to-face conversation with the public.

Virtual assistants can be a help to law enforcement and first responders in other ways too. Motorola Solutions created a high-tech walkie-talkie with a built-in voice assistant named Viqi last year. ViQi helps first responders operate the device and keep in contact with each other without needing to use their hands. But, applying people-facing AI to public service is a different proposition. Mesa, Arizona enabling citizens to pay their utility bills through an Alexa voice app is less dramatic than a virtual policewoman, but it plays a similar role in applying AI to simplify a government service. As more cities and organizations expand their digital presence to voice assistant platforms, virtual employees like Ella that can smooth the process of providing services to communities may become as common as automated telephone menus are today.


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