Meet the woman behind Google Assistant – yes she has a scarily human origin

Being the youngest daughter of a research librarian and a physics professor, one might assume the intellectual capability of a child bred by such parents would be smart enough – but would you have guessed it to be off the IQ scale?

In fact, as far as intelligence goes, she may very well be the scale.

Where is the one place you would go to for information on, well, anything? Alright, if you’re a Bing user then apologies, but most people would confide in Google and maybe we might speak to ‘her’.

Knowing that you can speak to your phone is not breaking news, but did you know that the voice that responds to you when you exclaim, “Ok Google” won $100,000 on the show Jeopardy: Kids Edition when she was younger?

Upon her release in May 2016, Ms Assistant has been swiftly and accurately fulfilling endless queries across the globe, and in multiple languages too.

Arguably the smartest voice-activated assistant we’ve ever seen, the seemingly random facts that make up her artificial backstory were all meticulously given life by Google’s lead conversation and persona designer James Giangola, to give the technological assistant a relatable personality.

In an interview with The Atlantic , Giangola described how the Assistant has a hobby for kayaking.

When auditioning for the right voice, it was noted that one of Giangola’s skeptical colleagues questioned the wisdom behind Assistant’s water sporting endeavours, “How does one sound like they’re into kayaking?”

Giandola replied commenting on a candidate who had just auditioned and said, "Do you think she sounded energetic, like she’s up for kayaking?" His colleague pointed out that she didn’t, to which Giangola replied, "Okay, there you go".

It was important for companies such as Google (or even Apple with Siri and Amazon with Alexa) to achieve a balance between the robotic and the real.

Although voiced by a real human being, the fine line between natural-sounding speech and synthetic speech is very important.

An automated assistant should remain true to its cybernetic nature but sound friendly enough to allow its users to confide in it and trust its words all without coming across as creepy.

Aiding Google with Assistant’s personality was was Emma Coats who was hired from Pixar. Her previous work as a storyboard artist for the movies Brave, Monsters University and Inside Out allowed for her to shed some expertise on the matter.

The Atlantic reports that Coats was at a conference for Google and commented on Assistant saying, “it should be able to speak like a person, but it should never pretend to be one.”

Drawing comparisons to the movie Finding Nemo, she said, “the fish are just as emotionally real as human beings, but they go to fish school and they challenge each other to go up and touch a boat.”

Similarly, an artificially intelligent entity should mirror the workings of the software that programmed it in the first place.

Although Google Assistant can relay speech in a humanly way, Coats argues that it shouldn’t actually possess a human identity, nor should it be able to feel the way that we feel and it seems that Google may have recognised this.

For example, upon asking Assistant a question such as “What’s your favourite ice-cream flavour?”, as opposed to answering the question directly, it dances around ambiguity instead of unique specificity, responding with something like “You can’t go wrong with Neapolitan. There’s something in it for everyone.”

For the user, Assistant does not answer their question directly because she simply cannot formulate such an opinion, being a soulless script of AI coding.

Likewise, when you quite literally propose to Amazon’s ‘Alexa’, she’ll reply with something along the lines of, “We’re at pretty different places in our lives. Literally. I mean you’re on Earth and I’m on the cloud.”

So is artificial intelligence too smart? And if this is what Google offers now will AI soar into an uncontrollable spiral of technological advancement in the future?

Only time will tell whether robots will be our allies or our enemies; choose your side now…

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