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How to Name Your Chatbot: GUPPI, Samantha, Alexa, Siri, and HAL 9000

In his brilliant Bobiverse trilogy, Dennis E. Taylor writes about Bob, a Silicon Valley CEO, whose brain is scanned into a computer and becomes the AI in an interstellar spaceship. GUPPI (General Unit Primary Peripheral Interface) is virtual Bobâ€s virtual assistant. GUPPI has limited intelligence, on a par with Siri or Alexa of our own post-industrial age, so communicating with GUPPI is alien and awkward. The name “GUPPI†helps remind Bob of the limitations of his assistant, which in turn helps him converse at a level GUPPI can understand and process.

Compare GUPPI to Samantha, the AI in the movie Her. In sharp contrast to GUPPIâ€s fishy flaws, Samantha understands and expresses complex emotions, and possesses at least a human-level intelligence. Other than the pesky fact of not having a body, Samantha appears to be fully human. Not surprisingly (spoiler alert!) the lonely protagonist falls deeply in love with Samantha and a cerebral affair ensues.

While the AI names like GUPPI or HAL 9000 (from 2001: A Space Odyssey) imply an alien digital intelligence, the familiar name Samantha implies high similarity with human beings, self-awareness, and even consciousness. Names like Alexa and Siri strike a balance of being somewhere between the two, sounding human, yet also somewhat rare, exotic and alien. Our current AIs are much closer to GUPPI than they are to Samantha – a typical conversational AI assistant understands about as much as a dog does, minus any emotional intelligence. Thus, it makes sense to invest some time in naming and visually representing your bot in a way that helps frame from the start what your conversation partners should expect from communicating with your bot. Framing expectations is key. You want people to be impressed when your dog-level AI understands simple commands like “GUPPI, bring me my slippers.†You do not want your customers to be heartbroken when your bot fails to understand the following: “Samantha, even if you come home late and I’m already asleep, just whisper in my ear one little thought you had today. Because I love the way you look at the world. And I’m so happy I get to be next to you and look at the world through your eyes.†http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1798709/quotes

Like what you are reading? This was an excerpt from the upcoming chapter for Smashing Book #6, “Designing Conversational Interfaces for Chatbots and Virtual Assistants

The book was literally just published for a limited release this week: https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2018/06/meet-smashing-book-6/

And already getting rave reviews: https://marcthiele.com/notes/smashing-book-6

What did you think? Want to see more? Let me know!

Image credit:

Pikawil from Laval, Canada [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)]

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