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The Bot Politic

The New Yorker

In February, I took a job designing the personality of a chatbot called Kai. assistants that she designs, Amy Ingram and Andrew Ingram, schedule meetings over e-mail. Psychologists define human personality according to traits known as the Big Five: extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, openness, and neuroticism. Designing Kai, I was able to anticipate off-topic questions with responses that lightly guide the user back to banking, but Alexa and Siri are generalists, set up to be asked anything, which makes defining inappropriate input challenging, I imagine.


Yelling at Amazon's Alexa

The New Yorker

The first time I met Alexa, the A.I. robot voice inside the wine-bottle-size speaker known as the Amazon Echo, I was at my friends' house, in rural New England. "Currently, it is seventy-five degrees," she told us, and assured us that it would not rain. This was a year ago, and I'd never encountered a talking speaker before. She's in cahoots with a sensor in their driveway.) When I razzed my friend for his love of gadgetry, he showed me some of Alexa's other tricks: telling us the weather, keeping a shopping list, ordering products from Amazon.


When Products Talk

The New Yorker

Last month, the Washington Post reported on a surprising new job in Silicon Valley: bot-writer. "Increasingly, there are poets, comedians, fiction writers, and other artistic types charged with engineering the personalities for a fast-growing crop of artificial intelligence tools," the Post's Elizabeth Dwoskin wrote. These personalities, Dwoskin reported, will soon be joined by more specialized bots developed by other companies, among them Sophie and Molly, "nurse avatars" that talk to patients about their medical conditions. There's even a "guru avatar" in development, designed to teach meditation. These products are exciting and futuristic--just a decade ago, the possibility of conversing with a computer program seemed like science fiction.