One Saturday evening, at a dinner with friends. There comes this moment when we talk about this actress: “You know, the one who plays the mother in [le film du réalisateur canadien Xavier] Dolan » ; ” In Mommy ? A name that starts with a B or a D, right? “ After two minutes of unsuccessful attempts, the master of the proceedings ends the discussions, covering the ambient hubbub: “OK Google, who plays the mother in Mommy ? “ The answer comes from a small enclosure: “Anne Dorval. “ As long as the guests have some curiosity about this object, they will end up asking more and more incongruous questions in order to test its distribution. And there is no shortage.
How did we become so familiar with these technologies, called personal assistants, which we find today embedded in connected speakers, smartphones, televisions, cars …? According to the British firm Juniper Research, the number of devices equipped will increase from 2.5 billion in late 2018, worldwide, to 8 billion in 2023.
Beyond the progress that has enabled these voice-controlled interfaces to be more and more efficient, everything is done to give them a personality that tends to “humanize” them. For Amazon, Google and Apple – who developed the three most popular consumer assistants, Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri – is a key issue. “Personality is at the heart of what defines an assistant”, says Philippe Daly, who directs Alexa’s activities in France. For Lauren Ducrey, who leads the development of the Google Assistant in French-speaking countries, it is obvious, because “People attribute it to himt a personality and abilities “.
When Siri was launched in 2011, the software used to control Apple's iPhone by voice, this conversational overlay was even more essential: “It was to keep people from realizing that technology was not working very well, explains one of its designers, the Frenchman Luc Julia. Hence this somewhat stupid, somewhat funny personality: when Siri does not understand, she makes jokes. “
If Amazon and Google arrived later in the field of virtual assistants (respectively in 2014 and 2016), the two groups pushed further the work on the personality of these interfaces. At the head of the Assistant personality project, a former employee of Pixar studios has surrounded herself with creative profiles (screenwriters, journalists, actors, etc.). With her team, she had to choose the voice of the Assistant, define her character traits – “Helpful, playful, familiar, empathetic”, describes Mme Ducrey – then write the answers to the most unusual questions that users can ask, if possible with humor. The same work was done at Amazon.