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MIT Technology Review

A Siri scriptwriter says composing lines for AI is like writing an “absurdist play”

How do AI-powered virtual assistants figure out what to say? Scriptwriters come up with their lines.

A means to an end: Most people use conversations with virtual assistants transactionally. Exchanges consist mostly of “Alexa, order me more paper towels” or “Siri, play ‘Born to Run’ by Bruce Springsteen.” Scriptwriters have to learn the best way to help to users achieve their intended goals, while also planning for twists and turns.

Siri’s improv skills: As Mariana Lin, writer and creative director for Siri, wrote in the Paris Review: “Writing for AI, then, can be a bit like writing an absurdist play. You have a character, you have some goals in mind. But there’s no accounting for what the other characters, the humans, will say or do.”

In-depth conversation: It’s a new avenue of employment for out-of-work Hollywood writers and poets. But for some it’s about more than just making ends meet. Lin says her goal is for AI not to limit the depth and intricacy of human discussion. It can, she believes, create “inspired conversation in our lives.”