Skip to Content
MIT Technology Review

Wanted: Creative Humans to Make AI Personalities Sparkle

Poets, fiction writers, and comedians are making virtual assistants a lot more interesting.

April 8, 2016

It takes a lot of work to create a good movie or TV character, and apparently much of the same work is now going into creating the characters behind AI assistants like Siri, Cortana, and Alexa.

As this piece in the Washington Post points out, creative workers like poets, fiction writers, and comedians are fast becoming the ones responsible for making these assistants seem human—coming up with everything from human-sounding filler words to jokes to a background story and small personality details.

It makes sense: if you want to get people to use these software-based assistants, they should be approachable, dynamic, and have consistent personalities. Throwing in some party tricks—such as Siri’s ability to beat box—doesn’t hurt, either.

But just because your AI assistant has a carefully curated personality doesn’t mean it’s going to be useful. Making AI conversational interfaces is still very, very hard (though Baidu seems to be doing pretty well with it in China), as it can misunderstand what you’re requesting, or may only be able to help in specific situations.

And one issue that still sticks out like a sore thumb is the fact that so many of these assistants remain women—or at least appear recognizably feminine. According to Wired, sexism is to blame: apparently, research shows we respond more positively to female voices.

If that really is the case, we may continue to see plenty of female AI assistants; regardless, it sounds like they’ll be getting increasingly nuanced—and occasionally funny—personalities.

(Read more: The Washington Post, Wired, “10 Breakthrough Technologies: Conversational Interfaces,” “Is Now a Good Time to Meet Your New Virtual Assistant?”)