An intelligent and self-learning virtual assistant voiced by Oscar winning actress Cate Blanchett has been reportedly stopped from making its debut as the face of the National Disability Insurance Scheme by a government spooked by past tech failures.
The ABC reports that a 12-month learning period for the animated assistant Nadia — due to start in the middle of this year — has been shelved.
Multiple sources “close to the project” told the ABC that the government has stopped the rollout after incidents like the Census meltdown, ATO outages and the Centrelink robo-debt debacle reduced its tolerance for risk through large high-tech projects.
An National Disability Insurance Agency spokesperson told Business Insider the development of Nadia is “ongoing” and the organisation would “continue to work closely with partners” to improve its technology.
The Nadia project was led by technical guru Dr Mark Sagar, who has won two Oscars and worked on Spiderman 2, King Kong and Avatar. His involvement, and her own family’s experiences with disabilities, led to Blanchett volunteering her time to voice Nadia.
Nadia, had it gone live, would have delivered taxpayers significant savings, according to the ABC.
The NDIS call centre currently takes about 6,000 calls each week from a base of 32,000 clients, which costs $25 per call. The NDIS is expected to reach a client population of 460,000 within the next three years.
The NDIA has stated that it will fail to cope with the volume of enquiries without assistance from Nadia.
In February, NDIA deputy chief Louise Glanville said that Nadia would start with answers to common questions but needed experience to develop capabilities for more complex enquiries.
“The more interactions she has with people, the more her knowledge bank will grow,” Glanville said at the time.
“She can speak, write and chat online and has been designed to meet international accessibility guidelines. She can already understand thousands of questions put to her, and will answer with clear and simple responses.”
But in May, just as the learning period was due to start, the NDIS reportedly withdrew the Nadia project’s nomination for Australian Information Industry Association awards, in a bad omen for the virtual assistant.
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