Save the institutionally important, educationally relevant and academically vital questions for later. Foremost on inquiring (computer user) minds are queries like: What’s up in your life, dude?
Users of the Digital President Whitfield want to know about the university president — and they’re eager to hear it straight from his digital doppelganger.
“Groot! Groot is at the top of the list of what people want to know,” says Russ Logan, managing partner of Las Vegas-based AI Media Lab.
That would be Groot, UNLV President Keith Whitfield’s English mastiff puppy. Surprised? So was Logan.
But after further analysis of the initial metrics on the AI program – which launched Feb. 1 — he got it. Even in a digital world, it’s about real people getting to know real people. And their pets.
“Whether it’s online or in person, when it’s like, ‘Show me a picture of your kids or your dog,’ there is an emotional reaction," Logan explained. "People feel a connection because they’ve seen a piece of your life.”
Groot may be totes adorbs, but the canine cutie is just one of the 500-plus topics and 9,000-plus questions that President Whitfield’s digital twin is equipped to address.
Grouped into a more expansive framework, questions users ask about Groot fit into the larger category that AI labels “About President Whitfield” – which clocked in at nearly half of the total inquiries. That also includes his love of trucks and tales of fishing with his dad and granddad as well as how he did as a college student himself.
The breakdown of Digital President queries:
- About President Whitfield (47.46%)
- UNLV financial aid and scholarships (10.54%)
- General UNLV information (10.17%);
- Academics (9.12%)
- Health and wellness (7.32%)
- Student involvement (4.7%)
- Admissions (2.85%)
- Administration (2.19%)
On average, there were 8.56 responses per user to the avatar. Plus, inquiries spanned the globe, with sessions from Canada and as far away as Germany, Turkey, and Taiwan.
“What’s so nice about working with President Whitfield and his background is that he gives his insights fairly regularly,” says Monty Coon, the lab’s vice president of AI Dialogue, and UNLV business alumnus. “We would consider him to be a mentor.”
Ultimately, Logan adds, the goal of the digital avatar program is to foster that same kind of mentorship more broadly and encourage students to have easygoing conversations in person or online.
“That’s where this is going – how can he extend himself to each student, tell them stories, ask questions, give them experiences he’s gone through so they can feel confident in the tougher situations in college?” Logan explains. “And it’s brilliant if you listen to his stories; he has such a wealth of knowledge.”