Meet 'Kiri' Vodafone's new digital human

"Kia Ora, I'm Kiri."

There's nothing new in a shop assistant greeting you, except this one isn't human.

Over the next six months Vodafone will be trialling it's digital human Kiri on kiosks in two stores to carry out routine transactions, like pre-pay phone top ups.

"Then that frees up retail staff to have high value conversations with customers, to be able to spend more time dealing with their complex queries,' says Vodafone customer operation director Helen van Orton.

Kiri is the latest innovation in a growing population of digital humans designed to do the boring jobs humans don't want to do.

She, or it, was designed by New Zealand technology company FaceMe, which was this week named in the TIN 100 technology report as an "up and coming" company.

FaceMe Chief Operating Officer Bradley Scott says Kiri can recognise more than just words.

"Our platform is able to watch the customers and understand the emotions they are displaying."

That includes when a customer smiles or frowns.

FaceMe is one of two Kiwi technology companies developing digital humans. Its rival is Soul Machines, which recently announced that the financial arm of prestige car maker Daimler-Benz had invested in the company.

So called "digi-humans" are being increasingly deployed here and around the world.

 ANZ bank has Jamie on its website, ASB is trialling Josie and Air New Zealand has Sophie.

Vodafone says it's the first to put one in a retail store.

"This is a great way for us to test and learn what a digital human, or Kiri as she is called, can actually do how customers interact with her," says Ms van Orton.

Vodafone also says it's not about taking away workers' jobs but giving staff some help.

First Union's secretary for retail workers Tali Williams says it's the way of the future.

"But there are certain roles which will continue to be filled by a human and require that human interaction and we believe retail will be one of those, " she says.

Still Kiri seems to have found a soft spot with her new employer.

"She is not designed to fool people but equally she is designed to provide that warm and engaging interaction. She does tell some good jokes," says Ms van Orton.

If Kiri is successful, FaceMe and Vodafone NZ say she may be rolled out worldwide.