Breathing Life into The Ghost in The Machine

The further we go down the road of surreal technology – particularly robots, virtual influencers, and AI – the more fascinated we become with efforts to humanize it.

Why does this intrigue us?

Four reasons.

First, analysts predict robots will become our peers at work,1 companies believe “digital humans” will assist us at the office within the next decade,2 and restaurants like Arby’s are already using chatbots to represent HR.3

Second, technology is increasingly taking on human characteristics.4

Third, some believe within five years, most or all of Gen Zers will have a virtual being as a close friend.5 And predictions hint at a future where AI-human relationships are no longer taboo.6

Fourth, because there’s an interesting parallel to advertising. Building brands involves breathing life into them. Our efforts to humanize a brand include establishing a personality, voice, mood (and sometimes muse), and in equal measure, demonstrating empathy “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.”7 To do so helps ensure a brand is relatable, and one that customers can form a relationship with.

While most analysts claim that robots and digital humans are incapable of “influencing emotions, inspiring action, and expressing empathy,”8 we are astonished by increasingly relatable technology and the emergence of human-to-machine relationships that suggest the opposite. Here are a few examples that demonstrate the potential:


  • Ameca, with lifelike facial expressions ranging from confusion to frustration to awe9
  • Mind-controlled prosthetic limbs that provide human-like movement, as well as restore feeling via artificial touch technology10
  • Robotic priests, new technology emerging in worship services, where robots “recite prayers, deliver sermons, and comfort those in crisis”11
  • Robotic pole-dancers during the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show12
  • Masked robots, delivering anti-COVID-19 information at the Athens International Airport during the pandemic13
  • Social-assist robots for use with children14 and the elderly15

Digital Humans

  • Replika, a generative AI chatbot app, enabling the creation of “AI companion” avatars that feel so real,16 4 in 10 users see them as a romantic partner17
  • Virtual doctors, “infused with AI to answer thousands of questions on any medical diagnosis”18
  • YUMI, skin care brand SK-II’s autonomous, animated digital skin care advisor, who will take questions19
  • Ren Xiaorong, an AI news anchor in China20
  • Fictosexuals, those who live as if they are in real relationships with characters from anime, manga, and video games21
  • Digital embalming, an effort to create digital likenesses of the dearly departed, so loved ones can continue to “visit and interact”22

Other Advancements

  • Voice-cloning for use in Alexa-type applications,23 or media (e.g., radio ads, article narration, etc.)24
  • The Feminization of AI, conversations about sexism in tech, including the lack of acknowledgement and support of female creators, and the unique, negative impacts of AI on women25

While many brands in the food and beverage space are dabbling with robotics and AI, we agree with a recent piece cautioning the industry to “focus on the human element,” leveraging these new technologies to understand and solve human problems, rather than as shiny objects.26 But we will go a step further in recommending an exploration of the truly humanized versions. 

[1] “The Importance of Humanizing Technology,” Forbes, 3/16/23
[2] “AI With a Human Face,” HBR, March-April 2023
[3] “ChatGPT’s first restaurant job could be in HR,” National Restaurant Association Show, 5/23/23
[4] “4 Robots That Look Like Humans,” Discover Magazine, 3/16/23
[5] “Live VR Event: Edward Saatchi talks about the future of virtual beings and the Metaverse,” Beat, 1/08/21
[6] “They fell in love with AI bots. A software update broke their hearts,” Washington Post, 3/30/23
[7] Oxford Dictionary
[8] “Man vs. Machine: The Importance of Human Capital,” LinkedIn, 2/13/20
[9] “4 Robots That Look Like Humans,” Discovery Magazine, 3/16/23
[10] “Artificial touch technology restores feeling to prosthetic limbs,” CNBC, 4/13/22
[11] “God and robots: Will AI transform religion?” BBC, 10/21/21
[12] “The artist whose pole-dancing robots shocked CES is worried about where this is all going,” CNBC, 1/09/18
[13] “Athens International Airport Recruits Robots to Inform Travelers on COVID-19 Measures,” Global Times, 6/28/20
[14] “Pandemic Tantrums? Enter the Robot Playmate for Kids,” WSJ, 8/04/20
[15] “Inside Japan’s long experiment in automating eldercare,” MIT Technology Review, 1/09/23
[16] “The fell in love with AI bots. A software update broke their hearts,” Washington Post, 3/30/23
[17] “My Girlfriend is a Chatbot,” WSJ, 4/10/20
[18] “Borderless Care Delivery-Anywhere, Anytime – Center for Body Computing,” USC, 2023
[19] “Meet Yumi, SK-II’s autonomous animated digital influencer,” Global Cosmetics News, 6/25/19
[20] “AI News Anchor Makes Debut in China,” NPR, 11/09/18
[21] “This Man Married a Fictional Character. He’d Like You to Hear Him Out,” NYT, 4/24/22
[22] “Could AI Keep People ‘Alive’ After Death?” WSJ, 7/03/21
[23] “Amazon’s “dead grandma” Alexa is just the start for voice cloning,” 8/08/22
[24] “Brands Are Turning to Realistic-Sounding AI Voices for Ads and Content,” Adweek, 4/04/23
[25] “3 reasons why the future of AI relies on women,” Fast Company, 12/14/23
[26] “How can food, beverage companies better harness AI? Focus on the human element,” FoodNavigator, 11/15/23