Cora began life as a digital assistant 'chat bot', created for the Natwest bank, whose purpose is to "make life a little easier" for its customers. The Cora support system has expanded to become a "digital human" artificial intelligence system, with the most recent prototype being developed by a company based in New Zealand (Soul Machines).
(Pictured: A couple of questions posed to Cora, and Cora's answer, when asked what Cora is, and how to order a new Natwest card)
The first implementation of Cora was a text based 'chat bot' (shown above) that is still available on the Natwest website (help pages), and is capable of answering over two hundred questions related to banking; such as "How can I order a new debit/credit card?". Chatbots are also referred to as "conversational agents" and are generally implemented by companies to provide real-time support services. Chatbots are not a recent invention, A.L.I.C.E is a popular chatbot that was created over 20 years ago, and received the Loebner Prize. Some more recent examples of chatbots include: Cortana, IBM Watson, ManyChat, Chatfuel, Chattypeople, CNN chatbot, MedWhat, Casper and Endurance.
The latest implementation of Cora is a "digital human" (shown below) which is currently being tested in Natwest branches in Newcastle and Liverpool, with the possibility that 'she' could be rolled out nationwide if the test proves successful. The digital model for Cora is based upon an employee at Soul Machines.
(Pictured: Cora, the digital human, who is being tested in Liverpool and Newcastle)
Natwest, formerly named the National Westminster Bank, has been a part of the The Royal Bank of Scotland Group since the year 2000. RBS was particular hard hit by the banking crisis of 2007-2008, but posted its first profit in 10 years in 2018. In 2017, Sky reported that RBS was closing 197 NatWest branches, based across the UK. A small sample of the Natwest branches that closed (in 2017) are: Acton, Brentford Middlesex, Broomhill Sheffield, Cardiff North, Canvey Island, Chipping Norton, Earl's Court, Hatfield, Holborn Circus, Llandeilo, New Covent Garden Fruit Market, Oxford North, Sandhurst, Shepherds Bush, St Ives, Wandsworth, Wimbledon Village. Cora's potential release, at a time of large scale branch closures and employee job losses, may lead some advocates against AI to conclude that Cora is an early example of how companies are planning to replace the human workforce with AI and "digital humans". Whether this fear is overblown, only time will tell.