Have you heard UNLV President Keith Whitfield’s story about being on the lake with his dad and granddad when the boat began to sink?
It’s a giggle-getter.
Ask him and he’ll tell it to you – one on one – after he explains how to get your financial aid questions answered, which might be before he listens to you describe how you’re feeling and lays out where to find mental health services if you need them.
Or any of the other 500-plus topics he’s ready to discuss, from academic and campus safety matters to his love of dogs and passion for cars.
Just you and Digital President Whitfield.
“It’s an avatar, a digital twin,” says Russ Logan, a UNLV graduate (’01 BS Recreation and Leisure Studies) and managing partner of AI Media Lab, which created the program. Fellow business alumnus Monty Coon is vice president of AI dialogue while computer science grad Andrew Torres heads up engineering.
Digital President Whitfield formally launched Feb. 1. You can chat with him now via the president’s website.
“Since I joined UNLV in fall 2020 during the pandemic one of the key takeaways for me has been to find more creative ways to be accessible,” the real Whitfield says. “Realizing that I can’t talk to all 30,000 of our students, we embarked on this one-of-a-kind project to apply artificial intelligence to the challenge.”
The university believes the Digital President is the first of its kind in higher education and is a trendsetter for college presidents to expand their reach to their students.
The technology offers a wellspring of information on all things UNLV and is designed to evolve and adapt to meet student needs. The more the avatar interacts with students, the better the technology becomes, Logan says. The Digital President’s knowledge base will grow and its synthesized vocal rhythms and facial/bodily movements will become more refined.
Via interviews with President Whitfield and intensive research on an array of topics of importance to the UNLV community, Logan and his team have constructed this “virtual Keith” to be both informational and conversational – and even empathetic if someone is struggling in school.
“If you listen to Digital Keith, he’s got great insight,” says Logan, adding that AI Media Lab brought in its top organic brains to build this virtual person.
“On one side, we have a production team that is largely out of L.A. who have built Netflix movies and worked with celebrities like J-Lo — very high-level content creators,” Logan says. “And on the other side we have the technology folks, the PhDs who are building the AI and the engineers building these interfaces and putting them all together.”
Logan adds that user privacy is protected – all those interacting with the Digital President will be anonymous. No personal information will be shared, though the data from the conversations will be captured to help the program learn.
“Privacy is a huge issue for us,” Logan says. “We don’t sell the data. It’s not like he will be talking about his dog and then Petco will send you a gift card.”
Also high on Logan’s priority list: security measures and encryption safeguards to foil digital mischief by hackers.
So, say a digital howdy-do to the Digital President Whitfield who will be at your disposal 24/7/365. His knowledge, his insights and his knack for just shootin’ the breeze are merely a keyboard tap away.