When Will Alexa and Siri Have 'Personalities'? So Far, They're Not All That Fun

As we wind down the week, a couple of stories you might have missed from the week's news.

AOL's "SmartChild" chatbot c. 2000

AOL's "SmartChild" chatbot c. 2000

From NPR, "'It Has To Have A Soul': How Chatbots Get Their Personalities" is an excellent story about how early artificial intelligence (really just smart algorithms called "chatbots" on places like AOL Chat) had a kind of "personality" going back to the early 2000s that made them engaging in a way that our current Siri and Alexa just aren't. Those early chatbots' ability to use language in an almost human way suggested a kind of "personality" when interacting with humans. Sadly, that's as far as the personalities got. And, for the programmers now trying to get us to see a "human" inside our AI, until that AI can develop some kind of personality (I'm looking at you, Alexa), they will always be regarded as "dumb/smart" computers. 

NYT , Doug Chayka

NYT, Doug Chayka

Interestingly, this pairs well with a story by Farhad Manjoo in the New York Times yesterday ("Snap Makes a Bet on the Cultural Supremacy of the Camera") in which he argues that the big news around Snap, Inc. (owner of Snapchat) isn't just its IPO this week, but that it seems to understand the impact images are having in telling people's stories. Cameras, not keyboards, might be the "real" future of storytelling as younger people communicate in an newly emerging linguistic device of their own creation. In fact, I noticed that in the print version of the paper I saw yesterday morning, the headline was actually better: "Snap at the Center of a Linguistic Revolution". Perhaps the headline writers sobered up after the morning edition went out.   

I wonder if artificial intelligence will seem most human when it can tell us stories, not with words, but with images and videos. I think about the automated photo albums Apple's Photos app sometimes serves me up. Often times the albums that are created make no sense at all ("My god, why did you pick that picture???"), but occasionally it puts together a fairly poignant and touching story of a trip I took or an event I attended ("Wow, I forgot all about that. What a cool memory").

Something to chew on for the weekend --> if your phone's operating system served up a visual story that moved you, would it feel more "human" to you? Would it have a personality you might relate to? Would you want to thank it for moving you in a human way?