All Blacks legend and long-time mental health advocate Sir John Kirwan is about to add a new coaching stint to his resume - sleep coach.
Using artificial intelligence technology, the rugby great has been transformed into a digital human to personally guide people into a night of peaceful slumber.
Digital JK – or DJK as he will be known – is a new feature of Mentemia, Kirwan's mental wellbeing platform, which provides simple tools and techniques for people to include in their daily routine.
DJK the sleep coach offers tips on sleep, answers sleep-based questions, and helps users develop a sleep improvement plan.
"Good sleep is absolutely fundamental to good mental health," Kirwan said. "We can all relate to how we feel if we have a poor night's sleep, so it was a natural place to start for DJK."
Introducing his digital twin, JK said he hoped the technology would help millions across the world with their daily mental wellbeing.
"It's well known there is a huge need for mental wellbeing support and using digital solutions is one of the most effective and efficient ways to reach as many people as possible," said the former coach of Japan, Italy and the Blues.
"Digital humans are not a replacement for real therapists, but AI is a really important part of the future of mental wellbeing and Mentemia is at the forefront of that technology.
"We hope through DJK our users will see the potential of how AI can support their mental wellbeing in the future. As an additional digital support, we believe it is a valuable new option for people to consider."
Kirwan said the first iteration of his virtual self would continue to develop further as he had more interaction with users and learned how to behave and respond.
"You can chat with DJK and help him grow," said Kirwan.
"As he learns more over time, DJK will be able to offer more personalised advice and cover many more areas of wellbeing. We need to talk more about mental health and DJK offers people a different way to access information."
The creators of Kirwan's digital twin used 180 cameras to take hundreds of photos of the rugby legend's face from numerous angles.
Along with a range of expressions and minute detail of Kirwan's facial features they created a 3D representation of the character used to sculpt DJK.
"The wrinkles have to look like his real wrinkles and getting things like DJK's grin right is essential because the difference between creepy and natural is a lot finer than you think," said Shehan Bala, director of product for digital human specialist Uneeq.
DJK would be available as part of Mentemia's new premium subscription service for workplaces and businesses across New Zealand and Australia.
The free version of Mentemia was made available for all Kiwis in April to help support mental wellbeing during the first Covid-19 lockdown. It was downloaded more than 110,000 times.
Kirwan said more digital humans were being developed for the platform to provide tips and help in other areas of mental wellbeing.
"DJK is just the start, paving the way for a range of expert digital humans who will be able to help a user with stress and anxiety, for example," he said.
DB Breweries, a foundation partner of Mentemia, took part in consumer testing to help bring DJK to life.
"I have seen DJK in action, and he is very reactive – much more realistic than I expected," said managing director Peter Simons.
"I felt comfortable opening up about my sleep habits and getting tips to try from a digital human."