artificial personality (AP)

An artificial personality (AP) is a collection of characteristics, tendencies and behavioral quirks assigned to a chatbot, digital assistant, robot or video game character. A primary goal of adding personality to digital entities is to encourage end users to interact with programming on an emotional, as well as a logical, level.

Personalities are especially significant for voice-activated digital assistants such as Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistant and Microsoft’s Cortana because they are intended to take the place of human assistants. Google has hired a creative team to give its unnamed assistant personality, while Siri was purposely designed early on to be a little sassy. Cortana was modeled after real-life celebrity personal assistants and Alexa now offers a skill that allows her to be disrespectful.

People don't expect their digital assistant to pass the Turing test and be mistaken for a human being, but developers have found that the addition of personality quirks is something end users seem to appreciate. Typically, humor is used to redirect the user's attention from programming deficiencies.

While the ability of an AP to whisper, pause for emphasis or adjust pitch has allowed the program to seem more conversational, designers actually have to be careful not to make the personality seem too human and create an effect known as "uncanny valley." The effect is named for the way the viewer's level of comfort drops as a simulation approaches, but does not reach, realism.

This was last updated in March 2018

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