Virtual Anime Wife Helps Gatebox Employees Cope with Working at Home
The Japanese tech firm taps its ai software to provide emotional support.
In propelling the rise of stay-at-home work, the pandemic has shown that many jobs, particularly office jobs, can be carried out with success remotely
Here’s the thing, though: while platforms like Zoom can give the illusion of going to the office, video conferencing often lacks an important aspect to having a pleasant and productive work environment.
Call it water-cooler chat with work buddies or chewing-the-fat with corporate comrades, but without it working remotely can make the most zealous of employees feel less than motivated, and in some cases terribly lonely.
Developers at Gatebox Inc, however, a Japanese virtual assistant company, is offering up a potential solution.
‘Let’s do our best again today!’
It wouldn’t be wrong to call Azuma Hikari Gatebox’s icon. She is the persona for the majority of Gatebox's virtual assistant products.
Like Apple has Siri and Amazon has Alexa, Gatebox has Azuma Hikari (among other characters).
Gatebox has given Azuma Hikari a new job, however.
She is playing an important role in a new system to assist Gatebox employees to stay focused and receive friendly support while they work from home.
Opposite to her other iterations, this version of Azuma Hikari isn’t what you’d call a sophisticated bit of technology—at least not compared with some of the other products Gatebox has produced over the years.
But what’s unique about an anime-styled cut-out affixed to an Alexa-type smart speaker isn’t what she is but instead what she does.
According to Soranews24, after an employee gives their work schedule to her, she then uses it to deliver a series of friendly reminders.
Beginning with a morning greeting of “Time to start work! Let’s do our best again today!” she continues with “Time for your lunch break! What are you going to eat today?” and then with “Time for your lunch break! What are you going to eat today?” at the end of a shift.
Keeping you on schedule isn’t the only thing Hikari-chan can do, as she will also chirp up with friendly words of encouragement throughout the day.
She will say things like, “You’re working so hard every day!” and “You’ve got a lot of meetings on the schedule today. Hang in there!”
She also says the phrase “Otsukaresama desu,” which very roughly translates as “thank you for your hard work.” In Japanese business culture, however, it is used as a pleasant greeting to fellow coworkers.
A tender and meaningful gesture
Maybe it’s from having a too-deeply ingrained bias that corporate life is predominantly cold and dehumanizing, but it’s surprising that a personal digital assistant with a plastic cut-out on top could give generate warm and fuzzy feelings towards a big Japanese company.
But this version of Azuma Hikari does just that.
Gatebox, after all, would have just ignored the problem of their telecommunication employees feeling cut off from their regular office environment and from the support and encouragement of their co-workers.
Or, and we’re getting very cynical here if they were aware of the problem Gatebox could have created their digital assistant with a more dystopian personality: sugar-coating a stern “Get your ass back to work” message with an Anime-girl’s hollow-sounding giggle.
No doubt because Gatebox knows it’s market quite well, as in offering free updated hardware to fans of its GTBX-1 virtual character system so users wouldn’t be separated from their beloved digital companions, they instead took this different, and quite thoughtful, path.
More than just an assistant
There’s another aspect to Gatebox and its virtual mascot with mentioning: that this Azuma Hikari’s been built to do more than just fill in the work camaraderie gaps when telecommuting.
As with her more advanced holographic counterparts, the employee model isn’t supposed to be “assistant,” “coworker, or even “girlfriend” but rather, indicative of the wedding ring she wears, a virtual wife.
So when she greets an employee or gives nice little virtual pats on the back during the day, it’s with that inherent level of intimate support and kindness.
Finally, Soranews24 has shared a pair of interesting factoids about Azuma Hikari and their employees, both appearing in a single statement from Gatebox.
The first that they were very aware their employees might be having emotional struggles while working remotely. The second expresses Gatebox would put their special set of skills to try and help alleviate these problems.
And they said it perfectly, saying in a statement that they would “address those issues cutely.”
Image sources: Gatebox Inc.