As voice assistants become more and more human, people start to grow attached to them. Whether it’s Google Assistant, Alexa, or Bixby, more and more people are talking to their phones to get information. However, when you ask your phone where the nearest restroom is, you’re probably not wondering about its hopes and dreams. Why then are people in love with asking silly questions and finding easter eggs? If your voice of choice is Google’s, it’s more than just luck. Their designers strive to program a real personality that strengthens the connection with its users.
In an interview with The Atlantic, former Pixar storyboarder Emma Coats talked about the work she does fine-tuning Google Assistant’s “upbeat geekiness.” She designed an entire personality around the AI, which helps writers base their responses on a solid foundation of character. Seemingly irrelevant facts such as her winning $100,000 on Jeopardy: Kids Edition or a love of kayaking help establish who she is.
Once you get to the end user, it’s all about what you say. Coats states that assistants always have to be cordial, even in the face of the ridiculous. Asking your phone what its favorite media is will produce a common-denominator response that makes sense. Asking about a favorite movie brings up Short Circuit and the droids from Star Wars. TV talk turns to nature shows and reality shows, basically anything where she can learn about the real world.
Sadly, this is all just behind the scenes. Asking Google Assistant for opinions on extreme sports won’t get you much more than a shrug. Virtual assistants have to be all things to a lot of people, so giving them definitive opinions could cause issues. Still, it’s interesting to see what exactly goes into these programs we interact with every day.