Today, you're used to getting information in app form. You're probably even reading this article on your phone. In the near future, more of your interaction with computers might be managed by an A.I. interface that acts like a person. That's according to Botanic founder Mark Stephen Meadows. His California design agency is loaded up with work. They don't do U.I. design as you think of it today. Drawing on the arts, including acting, theater, and screenwriting, this agency designs personalities for artificial intelligence.
"Artificial intelligence personality design will be the website design of the future," Mark says. Done right, Botanic believes, digital personalities improve customer trust, capture your emotions ethically, and speed a happy customer experience. Done wrong, poor interfacing from a badly designed chatbot or avatar is like trying to run a Tesla on a pack of triple As.
Botanic's customers include health care pioneer Sensely, the Dutch higher-education system, and a growing list of blue-chip technology companies.
The new field of A.I. personality
To get a preview of coming attractions, cut to science fiction. For example, Mark recently tweeted a screenshot from the popular TV series West World. It showed one of the fictional personality control dashboards for robots in the story. Mark said it wasn't far off. "Whoever is consulting for that show," he says, "mocked up an interface that shows, technically speaking, unigram sequencing in a Markov chain. This is common for understanding, processing, and generating natural language. We have built such user interfaces for our writers since 2011."
The power of artificial intelligence and personality
Today's artificial intelligence personalities, like Apple's Siri or Microsoft's Cortana, still aren't full personalities.
Alexa of Amazon's Echo is used more for playing music and setting timers than for shopping or chatting. But the team at Botanic believes the problem isn't necessarily the A.I. system--it's the quality of the interface that limits how successfully the whole system interacts. "Successful A.I. interacting with people is more of a cultural problem than a technical one," Mark says. He points to the growing toolkit for understanding emotions that A.I. can use to better decode its most complex challenge: understanding people.
A primer in A.I. personality
Botanic draws on poetry, theater, and psychology to create storylines and personalities that connect more completely to different users and use cases. The company notes two other important factors for creating good digital personalities.
1. Ethics--and thus, authentication
"When you look at Facebook today," says Mark, "all of the bots out there are like humans, able to scam, spam, and abuse. They don't get tired. They can send thousands of messages per second. Those bots need to have license plates." Botanic has a patent on the authentication of an avatar as one means of licensing and registering these personalities. The agency says proper use is a completely unregulated issue now--one that needs adult supervision very soon.
2. Popular understanding of artificial intelligence
The recent White House report on artificial intelligence highlighted that a lack of understanding in the general public about what A.I. can do is a troubling issue. "The reasons why Google Voice has been in operation now for over a decade is so they can fine-tune libraries," Mark says. "They provide all these tools so they can identify how we think, what we feel, and who we associate with. It's affective decision libraries. People are fundamentally emotional." When you use software, you sign a user agreement. When you use A.I., do you get a use agreement?
Designing a humane future with A.I.
"Not only does Alexa have affect recognition, whenever you pick up Siri, Cortana, or Alexa, you are picking up a system that is sponging your entire identity, Mark says. "Looking 10 years ahead, this stuff is going to be key and central to how we interface with our homes and cars."
While many fear how we'll survive a world with potential superhuman artificial intelligence, Botanic's team faces this future with a reassuringly familiar tool set. Their take is that with art, poetry, theater, and the wisdom of our humanity, we can indeed design a better way to be--and that includes benevolent digital beings.