Did you know people are hard-wired to anthropomorphize?
It’s true. I usually talk to my plants. I will say something like “Tommy, you look stylish today.” That’s a compliment I bestow on my finest-looking tomatoes. “Buds, did you miss me?” I ask my basil sprouts. When one of them slows down or seems on the verge of dying, I ask them, “What’s your issue?”
There is a perfectly rational explanation for our tendency to anthropomorphize. Not only is it reasonable, but it’s also intelligent.
When we anthropomorphize inanimate objects — naming cars, seeing faces in street signs, greeting our couches and beds — we are forming bonds with them, impressing our concept of bonding onto them. It is the same reason that we will describe a dog as “friendly” and a storm of “vengeful.” We ask our lawnmowers why they always have to aggravate us, and we wonder how snow always seems to fall on the wintry days that it is least convenient for us. It is a result of our highly-active, powerful, socially-cognitive mind, which sees other senses anywhere it looks.
More than once, I have looked at a car’s fender and seen it smiling or grimacing at me. Who hasn’t looked up at the clouds and spotted a face smiling down at them? It is human nature to bring the non-living to life (at least in our perceptions).
Our tendency to anthropomorphize applies to digital assistants as well. People want to name them, talk to them, and form a connection with them. They try to find human-like traits in even the most innocuous visual cues.
For example, Nomi, the digital assistant NIO has developed for the dashboard, is fully expressive, its visual cues matching up with human’s facial expressions. Nomi, smiles, winks, and makes other expressions humans will recognize.
We also know that people engage in small talk with their assistants. They ask questions like “How are you?” “Do you like me?” and “Alexa, do you like Siri?” The list goes on and on: if we say hello or sorry to each other, someone has said that to a digital assistant at one point too.
Once, I attended a self-branding workshop, and the words one of the speakers said made an impression on me. “If you don’t brand yourself, people will brand you no matter what.” Isn’t this true for the digital assistants too?
As we need to work hard on creating our brand, we also need to work hard on creating digital assistants’ brands and personalities. We want users to perceive them in a certain way. Otherwise, they may end up branded dumb, or stupid.
Realize this: personality is more significant than technology.
Technology is an essential concern in developing the digital assistant, and it can help you form some level of emotional connection. Still, the more significant problem is the digital assistant’s personality. You may be using the best of the technology. But, if your digital assistant fails to make a personal connection because it lacks personality, none of that technology will amount to much at all.
So when designing your next voice assistants or conversational AI or chatbots, remember to give them a little bit of personality.
We will dive deeper into building blocks of a Digital Assistant Personality in part 3 of this blog series.