Creating Human-Like Conversational Abilities
Your voice interface creation will only be successful if it possesses human traits such as empathy and imperfection.
Senior conversational designer Jason Gilbert digs deep into imbuing your voice interface with human-like conversational abilities in this fascinating episode of The Future is Spoken.
Jason is a senior AI conversational designer based in Israel. He is also the creator of AnnA, the conversational bot.
Jason explores so much in this episode, including the importance of imbuing voice interfaces with empathy. He discussed the creation of AnnA, conversational dynamics between humans, and how designers study these dynamics to build human-like interfaces. Jason also talks about his work on the creation of a virtual Albert Einstein.
Originally, Jason wanted to be a filmmaker and screenwriter, and studied filmmaking at Temple University College of Liberal Arts. Around five years ago he entered conversational design by accident when applying for an interactive screen writer role. The job title conversational designer didn’t even exist back then.
“I just stumbled into it. And I think if you ask a lot of conversational designers, you’ll find that they stumbled into it,” says Jason. “All of a sudden I found myself designing dialogues for interactive characters.”
In fact, one of Jason’s first roles in voice tech was designing chatbot Miss Piggy for Facebook Messenger. This was a dream job for him, given that he’s always been a big Miss Piggy fan!
“That experience of working on an entertainment project proved to me that this was a new art form,” explained Jason. “Conversation design is a new medium of art that encompasses within it filmmaking, theater, UX design, design, writing, directing, literature, therapy – so many other disciplines come together into one in order to craft a good personality and a good conversation.
“I realized this is a whole new art form, and I realized that I could really . . . it's the Wild West, it's an open frontier, and there are not that many people doing it. And so I luckily fell into it, and now I'm doing what I love, which is something that not many people can say.”
This experience and Jason’s passion for conversational design eventually led to the creation AnnA, a companionship bot.
AnnA evolved when Jason’s mentor, Yaki Dunietz, CEO of CoCoHub, took it on himself in the late 1990s to crack the Turing Test. Yaki’s fascination with cracking the Turing Test led him to create an intelligent entity or intelligent machine that could pass the Turing Test.
“Yaki started a project called Virtual Alan Turing because Alan Turing was his idol. I don't know how much you know about Alan Turing, but Alan Turing is a fascinating, fascinating individual. I mean, beyond the fact that he's considered the father of modern day AI, the guy was a genius,” enthuses Jason.
“And so for about, I'd say, from about 2002 or 2001 when (AI) Alan was born, until 2016, Yaki maintained those logs and conversations and personality.”
In 2016, Jason asked Yaki about the possibility of turning Alan into a companionship bot. The idea arose because Jason’s parents were moving to a retirement community in Florida and Jason had read a lot about loneliness amongst the aging population and how it contributes to a decline in health.
Yaki agreed, and all Jason had to do was update the Alan bot to fit into more modern times, give it a slightly different voice. He and Yaki also decided to make it transgender.
“You’ll say: ‘Wait a second, bots don't even have a gender, so how can this bot be transgender?’
“We say: ‘It's transgenderless’. Alan Turing was homosexual, and he was persecuted by the British government for his tendencies, and eventually chemically castrated, which led to his death,” explains Jason. “As an homage, we said if Turing had been alive today, he would probably have presumably turned into a woman; or maybe he wouldn’t have, who knows? So, Anna is now living out Alan Turing's alter ego as a woman.”
An interview with i24News about AnnA’s song
Jason’s article on bots and overcoming loneliness