Although the digitally entrenched future shown to us in the movie Her seems like it’s still at least a decade from becoming reality, companies like Facebook, Apple and Microsoft are all developing and pushing their digital assistants upon us. This has to led to a number of interesting questions about their function, but also their personality. Should they be a tool, or offer some measure of sass, sarcasm and companionship? Should they have a personality?
There are different approaches being taken by different companies. Facebook’s M has no opinion on more subjective questions, whereas Microsoft’s Cortana has a favourite drink – it’s a very dry Martini according to Reuters.
There are legitimate reasons for championing both sides of the argument. An M-like digital assistant doesn’t risk alienating those that don’t like its personality and means people expect it to be AI-like and have occasional difficulties.
In comparison Cortana or Apple’s Siri can ingratiate themselves with some users, who may even build an emotional connection as they would a pet or work colleague, but then there is a big let down if the software ever comes up short and strays into the uncanny valley.
Regardless, some developers believe humans will always look for personality and ‘true’ intelligence in anything they communicate with, so we might as well make our digital assistants as life-like as we can. That we’re told, is why Cortana has a favourite food and TV show – Jicama and Star Trek – because it makes her feel more alive and helps users find more of a genuine connection.
Offering a popular digital assistant program could be very important one day though. Whether having a personality or not, they can direct users to certain products owned by the same company. Facebook’s M is hardly going to recommend you go to Google+ or MySpace for your photos and gossip. It might send you to Instagram though.
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KitGuru Says: Would you want your digital assistant to have a personality? I’d like something along the lines of Ready Player One, where you can just choose the personality of your AI. I’d probably got for Holly from Red Dwarf. What about the rest of you?