In September 2015, together with colleagues, I spent a day with Sir Tim Berners-Lee and his team at W3C MIT to discuss the concept of an intelligent avatar (soon after to be called “Nadia”) and augmentative interfaces I had written about in the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) business case, as part of a human rights led innovation and co-design effort with people with disability. I was extremely interested in Sir Tim’s view on the future of the web and it was phenomenal spending time with him in detailed discussions on his work on the human accessible web.
I started the work on Nadia, the world’s first AI digital human for service delivery, as a human rights issue – well before any of the technology was brought together.
The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability is remarkable drafting. It calls out the right of freedom of expression and access to information...by accepting and facilitating “augmentative and alternative communication”…so that people with disability can “receive and impart information and ideas on an equal basis...”
It seems to me that we haven’t got this right. And over the decades, in government and elsewhere, much of our community is under-served and effectively excluded, not because of their own capabilities, but because the industrialised and rationed model doesn’t accommodate the individual and their human rights.
Sir Tim Berners-Lee advocates for web neutrality and design universality of access, saying: “The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.”
It is also significant that the objectives of W3C (web accessibility) and the Convention (human rights) align with the W3C saying: “The Web is fundamentally designed to work for all people, whatever their hardware, software, language, culture, location, or physical or mental activity. When the web meets this goal, it is accessible to people with a diverse range of hearing, movement, sight, and cognitive ability.”
The Research and Development Working Group at the W3C further state that to improve the experience of digital interfaces, the interface should be able to dynamically change to suit the person’s needs or preferences. This requires a new type of interface – such as an interface that works like a person. This was what was achieved with Nadia.
And it is important to understand that the legacy of Nadia is not about the technology, but about the deep inclusive practice of co-design and co-creation. That is, for the first time, codifying the embodiment of a human-like system to achieve a cognitive connection and rapport. The digital human concept was co-designed and driven by people with disability inclusive of people with intellectual disability. Where AI differs from previous technology shifts and accessibility innovations, is that it exponentially changes outcomes and directions in human endeavour.
So as digital humans become a commonplace familiar face for dealing with government, in health care and other domains, reflect on where this started. Nadia – co-designed and driven by the most marginalised in our community and disability entrepreneurs who have had to navigate the world differently – is bringing about a level playing field for all.
And yet again, the world owes a debt of gratitude to Sir Tim Berners-Lee for taking the time to share his thoughts and listen to a concept born out of the imagination of people with disability.