CANNES — At this point in the early development of artificial intelligence, many people probably assume that typical AI applications revolve around textual deployments.

But we if you could use AI to create lifelike digital brains that, implanted in 3D facial models, could give life and character to virtual avatars?

As far-fetched as it may seem, that is exactly what Mark Sagar has done. The CEO of Soul Machines says his company has used IBM’s Watson cognitive computing service to inject emotion in to computer-generated movie characters – but the tech is not going to stop at Hollywood.

“How do we make characters that have their own digital life?,” asks Auckland-based Sagar, during this panel interview at Cannes Lions. “You almost have to give it a nervous system, a digital brain so it can think for itself.”

Sagar, who first pioneered the technology whilst working on the movie King Kong and who later built upon his work for Avatar, may be used to working with scripted characters – but these AI creations don’t necessarily have to follow the paths laid out for them.

“We have biologically-constrained cognitive architectures – these are brain models,” he says.”You don’t know how it’s going to act, it will have memory and so forth.

“The models can sense the environment, they can react, they can learn in real-time and we can connect those to Watson – you (can) have a conversation with it.”

Why is Sagar in Cannes, where the world’s advertisers and creative agencies are out in force to hear about what’s new and what’s next?

Because AI-driven facial models could help brands and enterprises create avatars that interact with customers in lifelike ways, tapping in to vast databases behind them and describing it in emotional mannerisms.

“If you’re a company and have big data that you want to go through, we can put a living face on it,” Sagar adds.”

This interview panel was chaired by The Weather Company CMO Jordan Bitterman. The Weather Company was acquired by IBM in 2015 and, together, the pair are leveraging IBM’s Watson to work on a range of AI-powered initiatives.

This video is part of Beet.TV’s AI Series from Cannes Lions 2017, presented by The Weather Company, an IBM Business. For more from the series, please visit this page.