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Creating Jamie

For months, Kirstin Marcon had been developing Jamie’s personality. Writing dialogue, coaching her responses. But then it was up to Jamie.

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Jamie is not a performer per se, she’s a digital assistant and she went live last month, dealing with customers. For Marcon, who comes from the movie business, Jamie’s entrance must have been like a film premiere.

" “Jamie is a little bit of a geek, especially about banking and science fiction.” - Marcon 

“I just feel incredibly lucky to be in the right place at the right time,” she told bluenotes.

Marcon was hand-picked for the role by ANZ’s Head of Emerging Technologies, Don Whiteside, because of her background in screen writing.

“It was Don who thought ‘oh I need someone to write scripts’ and had the vision of her having a personality, so I guess it made sense for him to hire someone who could create a character,” Marcon says.

The writer and director of a handful of films including She’s Racing, Picnic Stops, and The Most Fun You Can Have Dying she says changing careers has been a great experience.

“The emerging tech team is awesome to work for. What we’re doing is really hard and challenging but everyone works together and is really enthusiastic about what they’re doing. “

Persona

When talking with Jamie, customers become very aware she’s able to do more than provide rote answers to banking questions. Marcon’s screenwriting expertise has given Jamie a back-story and personality to make her feel more human.

This depth of development combined with Soul Machine’s world-leading technology places Jamie at the top of her field in the AI space.

“When I first started, I talked to the marketing team about ANZ’s persona in advertising. From that I decided I wanted her to be really serious and professional but also casual and lovely at the same time,” explains Marcon.

Marcon also spent time with the social media team and on the phones at the Wellington contact centre.

“It was really insightful. I saw how friendly and causal, intelligent but relaxed they were in dealing with customers. I just loved the attitude I saw there.”

It was clear that Jamie’s personality needed to be appropriate for a kiwi woman of around 25 - to match the appearance of the avatar.

“Developing her personality was fun,” says Marcon. “She grew in time. As we worked on her over the last few months, it slowly became easier to answer the question: ‘What would Jamie say?’

“We’ve been able to craft her taste in things like books, movies, and what she likes to do in her time off. Jamie is a little bit of a geek, especially about banking and science fiction.”

Stranger than fiction

Creating content for Jamie has proved to have quite a lot in common with writing for film.

“When we went live, it actually felt like making a film but unlike films we can change it after going live and that’s incredible!”

Marcon continues to write screen plays in her spare time and enjoys having her own projects on the go.

“Weirdly, just before I came to ANZ I did write a film which had an evil AI in it. I’ve now seen the error of my ways,” she laughs.

Back to the future

“Personally I’m interested in how avatars can be useful in our lives in the future. For example a case could be made for more community-focused avatars, used in a similar way to how robots have been used as companions for the elderly in Japan.”

Marcon also says she’s interested in getting closer to a truly conversational experience, because Jamie is currently a bit of a hybrid.

“She’s not able to have a context based conversation where you tell Jamie something and then in a few sentences she might refer back to it,” says Marcon. “That’s where everyone is trying to go, to a true AI. We’re not there yet, it’s far more of a manual process.”

For now, Marcon loves the deviation of her career into IT. “It never ceases to amaze me that I can write something and she will say it. Even 8 months later it’s really exciting!”

More human

As technology moves toward becoming a truly immersive user experience, it seems demand for roles such as Marcon’s is set to increase.

Creative minds have been described as the ‘secret weapon’ of making the virtual more real.

AI digital and tech teams worldwide are now including roles for writers, playwrights and even poets to write conversations that don’t sound like they’ve been pieced together by a computer.

For example, Microsoft employs a team of 22 writers to write content for their personal assistant Cortana to ensure she has a consistent ‘voice’.

For AI to continue to develop and become even more human, it’s going to be crucial to ensure skilled writers who understand and appreciate the world of IT are brought into the field.

It’s become the role of the writer to bridge the gap between IT and humanity.

And there’s always the challenge of the “uncanny valley” – a phenomenon where humans respond more to an avatar as it becomes more human until it becomes “too human” and creepy. When we can longer tell the avatar is not human we come out of the valley…

Shannon Newland is a bluenotes contributor.

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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