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UNLV president goes virtual with A.I. tool

Digital President Whitfield aims to help out students, faculty
Posted at 10:09 PM, Feb 25, 2022

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — The pandemic has brought on a new digital age with meetings, classes and even doctor's appointments going virtual.

Now, you can university presidents to that list.

UNLV president Keith Whitfield recently introduced his alter A.I. ego to the UNLV community, during his State of the University Address on Feb. 1.

The Digital President Whitfield is meant as a way to connect with students and answer any questions, while the pandemic persists.

"I had this kind of grandiose desire to talk to every single student, and I think I said that and the whole room just got quiet and said, 'he's lost his mind,'" said president Whitfield.

That's when he toured within the research and technology department and ran into two alums. They had an idea of helping students out with artificial intelligence by creating a digital president.

"They were out in Silicon Valley, and they said, 'you know, we can do this anywhere. why not do it in Vegas,'" said Whitfield.

The alums presented the A.I. feature to president Whitfield, and he says it blew him away.

"This was just this perfect combination, and what I love about it is that it was two Rebels who helped us come up with this solution."

It was equally important for the alumni to present this idea first to the city of Las Vegas and UNLV.

"I've always said that Vegas is built on entrepreneurship, right? I mean we put giant, amazing casinos in the desert. like who does that? So, there's a lot of smart people here," said Russ Logan, UNLV alumnus and member of A.I. Foundation.

Logan said president Whitfield spent five hours straight recording his voice to ensure they had enough for Digital Whitfield.

"I remember saying, 'are you OK?' And he goes, 'I'm ready to keep going if you are ready to keep going.' He spent the time. It shows them that he is serious that when he says something, he backs it up with his time and resources."

How does it work?

Well, it's pretty easy actually. You just go to unlv.edu/president/digital-president-whitfield. Then you click on the tab that reads "chat with Digital President Whitfield."

After that, anyone can have a conversation through text or actually talk to the A.I. version of the president.

"One of the most popular links is they want to know about my dog," said Whitfield. "I like it because it's a way without me trying to talk to 31,000 people that I connect with you a little bit and get you to understand that I'm just a person."

The president said they also want to put a big focus on mental health resources so they can help students, faculty and staff.

"We have some great resources on campus. Actually, You at UNLV is this incredible platform, so we want to make sure we are pointing people in the right direction so that they can get all of the information they are interested in."

President Whitfield says that the program works great on desktops and laptops, but they are still working on the A.I. for smartphones.