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How we can add personality to the machine and give artificial intelligence the human touch it's lacking

By Ian Haworth | Chief creative officer

May 5, 2017 | 6 min read

AI is the hottest of topics right now. However, the conversation is still too focused on the plumbing, the design of the tech itself. What hasn’t been conquered – and is perhaps the most crucial part when connecting the dots – is how you can design a voice for the machine itself.

This, for many, is where the barrier lies between AI and audience uptake.

Artificial intelligence debate

This has always been the case for advertising or selling anything. Whether it be a print ad, radio, broadcast or digital, it’s down to tone of voice and personality where creative output can quite visibly fall flat. With AI, you can clearly see how one piece of rigid, clunky conversation with a bot can lead to a failed connection.

Because, as the world turns faster and technology tightens its buckle, the rules of language remain the same. Since the dawn of advertising, we’ve always considered syntax, lexicon, graphology and countless other factors before committing to ink; when print was king, everything had to be considered. The same applied when telemarketing came into prominence, as a new medium enforced a new set of rules and demanded advertisers to adapt. And, with a few stumbles along the way, they did.

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Words still have the power to move people, to inspire them to do great things. They can make you feel warm or cold, they can convince you to invest in something valuable or blow your wages on something you’ve been wanting for years. AI isn’t really operating on that level yet. Alexa and Siri are tip-toes in the right direction, but they’re just glorified gadgets at the moment. Yes, they’ve been given human names, and Alexa reels out some brilliantly cringe-inducing jokes when prompted, but they’re still ultimately robots. They’re just not connecting with us. Brands are struggling with how their AI interacts with actual human beings.

And it is imperative that they do this soon. AI is integrating within brands, between their ranks. It’s now a novice, a rookie intern who needs to be shown the ropes. It’s representing the brand and taking on its message, its core values, its beliefs. So how can you make an automated voice connect with consumers on a brand level?

AI now is the brand

If you have a negative experience with a company’s human customer service, you’re going to be disgruntled at the idea of using them again. You might look elsewhere. The same applies to AI. The brand experience and engagement gives you the potential to become immersed in a brand – you can either feel a rush, an exciting jolt of ‘YES!’ as you engage with a truly intuitive being… or you can receive a clunky, inhuman response and just give up halfway through.

We need to get smart. Google is currently represented on the AI frontlines by its slightly robotic Assistant, but it can improve. We can all improve. AI needs to match the brand and that’s what we’ve not fully grasped on a widespread scale – a world-class, customer-focused company like Google needs the AI kit to suit. An Aston Martin AI system shouldn’t have the same tone of voice, the same inflection, the same vocabulary as a Vauxhall Corsa – it’d be incongruous and weird.

This a challenge that smaller companies or organisations are tackling far better than larger ones. For example, financial chatbot Cleo, which is geared towards younger savers, recently came into action and was partially funded by Skype founder Niklas Zennström. Cleo is an AI system with added sassiness, providing a clear monetary breakdown alongside gifs and easily digestible replies. She can be used through her own app alongside the channels of Alexa, Assistant and Facebook Messenger. Cleo’s fun, easy to use and a bastion of innovation when it comes to making AI efficient and human.

Another great example is the Australian federal government’s National Disability Insurance Scheme, which recently used Cate Blanchett’s voice for its digital assistant, Nadia; initially answering simple questions, she soon expanded her knowledge bank after interacting with more people. She’s a familiar voice we all know, she develops over time and she serves a clear, genuine purpose – what’s not to love?

Nobody expects AI to completely monopolise the art of interaction, but the debate has to be raised higher than just screaming at a digitised brick wall. By mimicking the human experience with AI, the brand experience can be boosted and the power of warm, emotive advertising can be reimagined through this exciting new medium. AI has the insight and reach to change the game, and brands can’t afford to squander that.

Ian Haworth is executive creative director at Wunderman UK and EMEA

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