Welcome to Intriguing People 2018, our annual celebration of Las Vegas’ cultural trailblazers and social trendsetters. See more from this year’s series here.
Zoe Camper can’t live without her technology. She says her new Google Pixel 2 phone is an extension of herself. “It feels like a third hand.”
Camper, a cognitive computing, a.k.a. artificial intelligence, specialist from London, developed a chatbot, Arthy, for charity organization Arthritis Research U.K. Arthy has helped hundreds of people, saving them valuable time and trips to the doctor by answering medical questions on their phones. When Arthy’s “mom,” moved to Las Vegas with her husband last March, she brought her technology with her, so as not to show up empty-handed.
“If you’re going to go to a party, bring a bottle of wine,” she says.
Which is why Camper launched the Royal Society for the Encouragement of the Arts, Manufactures and Commerce Las Vegas chapter in January. The RSA is a London-based academic group that started in the 1700s and advocates for “21st-century enlightenment.” The local group had their first meeting with tech leaders to discuss the future of AI, its possibilities and the ominous questions it inevitably brings up earlier this year. Anyone can come to the meetings either in-person or virtually.
Camper’s enthusiasm about AI is contagious, which is probably why she has the energy to work on multiple projects at a time. Using the same technology she used to create Arthy, IBM’s Watson software, Camper is developing a Las Vegas history chatbot named Sal. It’s currently in the research phase.
“One of the prime objectives is to understand what brings people to Vegas, how they get their information and how they’ll be wanting to get it in the future,” she says.
The idea for the chatbot is that people can ask it anything, such as “When did Las Vegas legalize gambling?” or “Does Las Vegas really have a black book of people banned from the city?” Sal will respond with a specific answer. Unlike Siri and Alexa, which are general assistants that use the web to find answers, Sal has deep knowledge on one topic and its answers come from a single database created by Camper.
Since moving here, Camper has devoured local history, even taking a job at the Neon Museum to learn what questions people are asking. (She was recently asked to do the voice-over for the museum’s new project, Brilliant!, because of her accent, she says.) Her research pushed her to embrace the pioneering, rebellious spirit of the city, where people do what they want until someone tells them not to.
“I reckon I can talk for three hours about the history of Las Vegas without stopping,” she says. “I love this city more than I thought I would, more than I thought I could in terms of knowing what has gone on [in the past].”