Finding the happy path between Siri, Alexa and humans

Mariana Lin on how to get the human conversation into artificial intelligence


Is artificial intelligence killing the art of conversation? After all, if we learn to bark optimised orders at Alexa and spit Google-specific keywords at Siri, we will soon lose the quirk, error, emotion and absurdity of human dialogue.

Worry not, because Mariana Lin is a voice interface design expert who writes lines for AI personal assistants including Siri and Hanson Robotics’ Sophia and she gives us insight into the work behind making these interactions as natural as possible. Lin aims for what is known as the “happy path”, which is, as she explains, not just about performing a function for the end user but “craft[ING] the best path for conversations, which sound different for different cultures, languages, genders, and identities”.

Drawing on Beckett and other literary mainstays, Lin ensures that the absurd is possible when shooting the breeze with Siri. You can simply say: “I’m home,” and Siri knows this isn’t an information request but she’ll get back to you all the same: “Be it ever so humble,” she offers. Meow. Siri volleys back: “Nice kitty.”