Meet Digital Jack Nicklaus: Golf legend’s metaverse ‘twin’ featured on BBC

Soul Machines' AI-powered Jack Nicklaus will help Nicklaus' legacy live on.

Soul Machines/BBC

Turns out, the 38-year-old, major-championship-winning, world-dominating version of Jack Nicklaus exists in more than just our memories and highlight reels. 

In fact, you can now interact with him…live, in real time.  

No, we’re not talking about the real Jack Nicklaus. We’re referring to “Digital Jack,” a “digital twin” of the real thing that soon will be available to golf fans via the metaverse. Digital Jack, a creation of the “artificial human” company Soul Machines, is an AI-powered character who can speak to users and answer their questions in real time, providing golf insight, stories and memories to audiences in a dozen languages. The AI capabilities of Digital Jack are powered by interviews with Nicklaus from the past 50 years, as well as other historical sources that highlight his career and his golf-instruction advice. 

If it sounds slightly…out there, that’s because it is. But it’s also cutting edge — in the golf space and far beyond. Artificial human technology represents one of the fastest-growing expansions of the metaverse, an “online world” of sorts that is expected to represent the next great transition of the Internet. Chalk it up as yet another first for Nicklaus, as he is not only the first golfer but also the first athlete with a digital twin for his fans to enjoy now and in the future. 

The technology was recently featured by the BBC, which spotlighted Digital Jack in a segment of Click, the network’s weekly technology show.

The report, which you can watch here (or below), examines the future of “digital twins” as educational and entertainment tools in our Jetsons-ized digital future.

“If we’re going to spend more and more of our time transacting and interacting digitally, how do we provide that human connection?” asked Greg Cross, the co-founder and CEO of Soul Machines. “We do that by providing a digital workforce for a whole wide range of industries.”

Within that “digital workforce” live a host of AI-driven characters, like Digital Jack, who can help users learn about the world around them in an interactive, friendly setting. Digital Jack, and other virtual characters, can have full-blown conversations with users, reacting to their words and nonverbal movements. Carmelo Anthony, the former NBA star, is among the other digital twins who Soul Machines is adding to its twins portfolio. Soul Machines also is developing digital twins for several Hollywood celebrities who will have the ability to actually act in motion pictures. 

The applications for this technology are vast. Eventually, Soul Machines says, digital twins could serve as brand partners, sponsors or teachers for companies and people in the metaverse. 

“One of the most interesting things we’ve learned in deploying digital people in healthcare and education is that people often prefer to interact with digital people because it removes the fear of human judgment from it,” Cross said. “A digital person doesn’t care whether you do the lesson 10 times.”

Nicklaus’ twin was created by Soul Machines in conjunction with Nicklaus Companies, which is an affiliate of GOLF.com. The project took about six months from conception to completion, and relied on input from Nicklaus himself to capture physical characteristics in  generating highly accurate graphics, information and vocal intonation. It’s all part of a brave new world for Nicklaus, powered by technology that someday could be responsible for carrying forward the Nicklaus legacy and brand for future generations.

“I think the Nicklaus Company will get tremendous use out of this [digital twin] for a really long time,” Nicklaus said. “It could turn out that Digital Jack will advertise a 2045 automobile. Who knows? You could actually do almost anything.”

James Colgan

Golf.com Editor

James Colgan is an assistant editor at GOLF, contributing stories for the website and magazine. He writes the Hot Mic, GOLF’s weekly media column, and utilizes his broadcast experience across the brand’s social media and video platforms. A 2019 graduate of Syracuse University, James — and evidently, his golf game — is still defrosting from four years in the snow. Prior to joining GOLF, James was a caddie scholarship recipient (and astute looper) on Long Island, where he is from. He can be reached at james.colgan@golf.com.