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Kiwi artificial intelligence gets boost

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 22/11/2016

An Auckland company founded by an academy award winner from Hollywood blockbuster Avatar has secured $US7.5 million to further its research into human-like computers.

The artificial intelligence company called Soul Machines will utilise University of Auckland research technology after gaining backing from Hong Kong investors.

The university's Dr Mark Sagar, who has worked with visual effects teams on Avatar and Spiderman 2 to create more lifelike computer-generated faces, will act as chief executive.

He said the aim is to develop human-like avatars for computers that become the standard way people interact with artificial intelligence systems in the future.

"Our engineering team will focus on bringing human life to technology that is intelligent, emotive and adaptive," he said.

Dr Sagar has previously undertaken medical research, including creating realistic models of the human eye by combining computer graphics with mathematics and human physiology.

He also won consecutive Oscars in 2010 and 2011 for his visual effects work on Hollywood blockbusters.

His latest venture Soul Machines is built on the technology behind his Baby-X avatar project.

The head of the University of Auckland team aiming to commercialise its research technologies, Dr Andy Shenk, said Dr Sagar had wowed global tech figures, including Hong Kong-based investors Horizon Ventures.

"Horizons Ventures was introduced to the technology on a recent tour of the university and was so impressed the team made the decision to invest almost immediately," he said.

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