Computers that have the ability to empathize, and be empathized with are the ones with the most staying power, and the most impact on society and business.
But in today’s technological landscape making a computer relatable is no longer as simple as giving it a voice, computer personalities need to interact with humans in a way that makes us develop meaningful connections with them.
Making these kinds of connections can be difficult through text-only means, but why? These days we communicate with others so much over text, but it still can be hard sometimes to convey personality and meaning without a voice.
Accent, inflection, and tone can all tell you about a person, and help you understand their intentions. I’m sure we’ve all had the experience of trying to weave comedic timing into SMS, or receiving a text message of imperceptible sarcasm, and learning at the last minute that your friend actually didn’t want to come to Karaoke with you.
Text only chatbots may not be as popular as the more vocal digital assistants such as Siri and Cortana, but they are no less important and widely used. For business purposes text only AI is more convenient, since a business setting isn’t always the best place to be loudly giving instruction to your phone or computer.
Because of this chatbots such as the Slackbot, and Facebook Messenger are used frequently in personal and business settings, and let’s not forget Microsoft’s Clippy, even if his reign was short and full of frustration. However, text only chatbots tend to have less personality, and be less endearing to the users, but why is that? And what can be done to change it?
WRITING ENDEARING CHARACTERS
Designing endearing text-only chatbots involves similar techniques used in writing novels and comic books. When writing characters who feel real in a way that people can connect with, you have to think of them outside of the situation you are writing them into.
A chatbot will only ever feel like a chatbot if you never consider it to be anything other than that. Real people have interests outside of one subject. They have speech quirks, sometimes they say things wrong, sometimes even on purpose.
So, in order to feel a little more real, a chatbot needs to have some of these attributes. This is why Cortana tells jokes, and Alexa reads bedtime stories. They like to help you organize your calendar and search for stuff on the internet, but they like other things too.
Aside from just writing convincingly human dialogue, it also comes down to emotional intelligence.
A good, endearing chatbot, needs to be coded to understand something about the users it will talk to. Chatbots need to do their research, and learn to discern the user’s intent, even if their words aren’t exactly clear, or are riddled with spelling errors.
Another helpful way to easily give your text-only chatbot personality is to have some sort of visual representation.
Nearly everyone hated Clippy, it’s true, but whenever you hear people talking about him, no matter how much malice is in their voice, they always talk about him as if he was an actual person. Like a nosy neighbor who insists on instructing you in how to use the lawnmower you just borrowed from him, Clippy was the worst, but he had personality.
Part of what gave Clippy his personality was his visual representation. Despite being nosy, and taking up about an inch of the already limited real estate of your 90’s computer screen, Clippy was cute.
He came floating in on his little piece of paper, with his “soulful eyes and Groucho eyebrows” and started to endear himself to us… and then he wouldn’t go away.
AI is the future, obviously, but AIs that can’t connect with humans will be the first to be left behind.
In the development of AI, of course things like Deep Learning, Natural Language Generation, and Speech Recognition are important, but I argue how empathetic and how easily relatable the AI is, will be most important, at least when it comes to staying power.