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New Zealand’s first AI police officer reports for duty

The Kiwi copper will chat with visitors and police personnel at the force's HQ in Wellington

New Zealand Police has recruited an unusual new officer to the force: an AI cop called Ella.

Ella is a life-like virtual assistant that uses real-time animation to emulate face-to-face interaction in an empathetic way.

Its first day of work will be next Monday, when Ella will be stationed in the lobby of the force’s national headquarters in Wellington. Its chief duties there will be welcoming visitors to the building, telling staff that they’ve arrived, and directing them to collect their passes. It can also talk to visitors about certain issues, such as the force’s non-emergency number and police vetting procedures.

After three months on the job, Ella’s future on the force will be evaluated.

“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 Police Commissioner Mike Bush.

[Read: European police trial sending young hackers to remedial classes instead of jail]

Homegrown tech firms Intela AI and Soul Machines led the AI and digital human development of Ella. They programmed it to use voice, tone and body language to deliver a one-on-one service.

Ella won’t be patroling the mean streets of Wellington just yet, and neither will it will be replacing human officers. But Commissioner Bush believes that if Ella does a good job, it could be handed a range of new responsibilities in the future.

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Published February 12, 2020 — 15:59 UTC