When users ask digital assistants like Siri what she likes to drink, she quickly responds that she has a thirst for knowledge. Her counterpart, Cortana at Microsoft enjoys a very, very dry martini. However, M, the digital assistant being tested by Facebook, deflects the question by stating that it does not have an opinion about it, and instead asks you what your favourite drink is.
As the tech giants battle to create improving artificial intelligence platforms, they are preoccupied over the differences of the personalities of their digital assistants.
For users, digital assistants are a doorway to strong artificial intelligence tools developers predict to influence key decisions about how to spend time and what to buy.
The more tech companies can persuade users to rely on their digital assistants, the more valuable information they will gather about the preferences, interests and spending habits of their users. The data could be food for lucrative digital advertising or a lever for organizations to keep users locked into their ecosystems.
However, companies are divided on the best way to create deep connections with users. Cortana and Siri are waging charm offensives, both are quick to tell a story or crack a joke. Their detailed personas are designed to keep users coming back.
Facebook’s M has no gender, voice or personality. The design is similar to Google’s impersonal assistant.
Although catchy one-liners generate hype, digital assistants with personality risk alienating users, or according to companies, misleading them about the software’s true function: performing simple tasks, just like a real-life assistant.
Facebook’s M concentrates on handling chores such as making restaurant reservations or ordering flowers.
According to Matt McIlwain, managing director of Madrona Venture group, the stakes are high for companies because digital assistants are able to guide users to their own products as well as those of their partners and advertisers, and away from those of competitors.
For example, Google’s digital assistant utilizes the company’s search engine to satisfy user requests for information instead of Microsoft’s Bing or Yahoo.
What charms one user is capable of annoying another user, a danger that Google and Facebook have greatly sidestepped.
Regardless, the Siri team came to the conclusion that personality was indispensible, according to Gary Morgenthaler who is an investor in Siri. He stated that if you are imitating a human being, then you are halfway into a human type of interaction.
Google came to the decision that it doesn’t want to take personality further without having a better grasp on human emotion.
The Google app responds to questions in a female voice but has little personality and few other gendered touches.
Regardless of M’s design, users often ask her to hear jokes, something the assistant obliges.
In order to help shape Cortana’s personality, Microsoft interviewed real-life personal assistants. Cortana’s tone is professional, but she has her whims.
She likes anything math or science-fiction related. Jicama is her favourite food because she likes the way it sounds and Star Trek is her favourite TV show.
Attention to detail like this is important because people are very particular in regards to artificial intelligence.
According to some academics, Siri’s personality has been her greatest success, however, some of her responses have caused problems for Apple.