Chatbot creators hire poets to make A.I. seem more human

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Kārlis Dambrāns/Flickr
You don’t need a STEM background to make it in Silicon Valley. In fact, one of the most desirable skill sets these days in the tech capital of America has seemingly little to do with technology. So for all you struggling artists waxing poetic (literally), starve no more — instead, you may want to consider making not a career change, but a change in scenery. As virtual assistants like Siri, Alexa, and Cortana grow in popularity, so too must their communication skills. And those skills have to come from humans who are particularly gifted in the realm of language.

Indeed, while there are plenty of people in Silicon Valley writing code for machines to understand, there are fewer writing words meant for humans to consume. As such, fiction writers, poets, and other literary folks are now in high demand. After all, a convincing AI is comprised of much more than a few canned responses — rather, writers must create an entire backstory for their artificial personalities, even if it’s never seen by the user. And that’s where people like Robyn Ewing, previously a screenwriter in Hollywood, come in handy.

It’s a tough job. As Ewing notes, most of the information that AIs and these virtual assistants provide can be easily accessed by other methods as well. “So if the character doesn’t delight you, then what is the point?” she asks in an interview with the Washington Post.

As the technology continues to evolve, many of the key players on Siri, Alexa, and Cortana’s team hail from increasingly non-traditional tech backgrounds. Cortana’s writing team, for example, is comprised of six people — of those, one is a poet, another is a novelist, the third is a playwright, and the fourth, a former TV writer. And as us users continue to push the boundaries of what we want our assistants to answer (everything from politics to the meaning of life to sexual assault), these wordsmiths are the ones tasked with providing authentic answers.

So don’t worry parents — if your child majored in Comparative Literature, there’s hope yet. It’s just not where you may have thought it would’ve been.

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