A virtual assistant which aims to help users navigate the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) faces an uncertain future following reports that the projected has stalled.
The ABC yesterday reported the rollout of AI assistant, known as ‘Nadia’ and voiced by Cate Blanchett, has been put on ice amid political fears of another IT bungle following the ‘census fail’ and Centrelink’s ‘robo debt’ debacle.
When asked about the reported stall, the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA), who are tasked with implementing the NDIS, told Which-50 the development of Nadia and other NDIS platforms is “ongoing” but refused to provide an expected start date for a public testing phase.
“The NDIA will continue to work closely with partners to optimise NDIS technology,” a spokesperson told Which-50.
Nadia, an avatar that understands and is able to respond to questions, uses IBM Watson and has reportedly cost upwards of $3.5 million. It was hoped that Nadia would help ease the expected pressure on contact centres as NDIS client numbers grow from 32,000 to 460,000 over the next three years.
The AI technology improves through use and was scheduled to begin its initial learning period – a restricted public test, midway through this year. But according to ABC sources the project has stalled.
“Multiple sources close to the project have told the ABC they fear the census and Centrelink ‘robo-debt’ debacles took their toll on government-wide appetite for risk,” according to ABC political editor Andrew Probyn.
When the project was announced in February it was met with enthusiasm as it was announced Blanchett wasn’t the only Hollywood star involved. Dr Mark Sagar, a two time academy award winner for his work on computer generated graphics would be creating Nadia’s face and personality.
Struggling to take off
During the launch NDIA deputy chief Louise Glanville said, “The agency will hold information sessions to inform people how they can engage with and use Nadia over the next couple of months,” Business Insider reported at the time.
This was to be the beginning of Nadia’s 12 month learning phase. However as the months passed with no sign of Nadia, Department of Human Services chief information officer Gary Sterrenberg had to tell a senate inquiry in May that the project was not stalling.
“I am not sure it has stalled per se,” he said.
“It’s really early days, and we really think there needs to be a lot more testing with this technology before it can be unleashed on the public.”
Sterrenberg told the senate inquiry he could not provide a go-live date and they were not working to one. Instead they were focused on controlled testing and “as soon as that is ready we will be ready to take it to the next level.”
Two weeks after the senate inquiry the Nadia project was withdrawn from the Australian Information Industry Association awards, causing “consternation inside the organisation,” according to the ABC.