‘You’re a real sweetheart’: The surprisingly human ways people respond to an AI assistant

So human-like.
So human-like.
Image: AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi
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Amy works for Dennis. She schedules his meetings and in general makes his hectic life as an entrepreneur a little easier.

Amy’s so good at her job that people write her little love notes. Sometimes, flowers and chocolates are sent to her at the office.

“People turn up in the office asking for Amy as well,” Dennis Mortensen, x.ai CEO and Amy’s boss, tells Quartz.

None of this is particularly out of the ordinary, except for the fact Amy is a bot, a virtual personal assistant.

Amy Ingram—whose initials hint at her true identity—does one thing and one thing only: schedule meetings. For two years, x.ai, a New York City-based artificial intelligence company, has developed and tested Amy and her male counterpart, Andrew, to handle the meticulous back and forth that’s required to schedule meetings.

On average, it takes 2.2 days for humans to set up a meeting, but x.ai’s bots have reduced that time to 1.8 days (and the delay is still mostly due to the humans), according to Mortensen. Judging from Twitter reviews by beta users, the results so far have been promising, and the company plans to make its intelligent assistants available to the public later this year.

Amy’s personality is largely shaped by the company’s AI interaction designer, Anna Kelsey, a 2014 Harvard grad who studied folklore and mythology. In Amy’s emails, she comes off as surprisingly human, striking a balance between the casual (“No problem”) and professional (“Thank you so much for your kind invitation”). She’s pretty convincing.

But x.ai doesn’t try to hide who she really is. Amy ends every email with this signature:

Amy Ingram | Personal Assistant to [user’s name]
An artificially intelligent assistant that schedules meetings by x.ai

Mortensen treats Amy like a person, even though he knows there’s no need. He says he sometimes finds himself starting off emails like, “Hey Amy, would you be so kind and set something up?”

“In the end, I ask myself, ‘Why am I wasting all these characters in writing this?'” he says. “Somehow I do anyway because it seems like the right thing to do.”

He’s not the only one with good manners. According to Mortensen, 11% of the “hundreds of thousands” of events scheduled during the beta test have included at least one email where “all [people] wanted was to give Amy a pat in the back.” These are emails that didn’t relate to scheduling, typically people thanking her in a private note for sorting out the logistics.

Even now, these human-AI interactions surprise him. Here are some examples he shared with Quartz:

“Thanks Amy, you’re a real sweetheart.”

“That’s perfect, Amy. Thank you! And nice to meet you via email.”

“Amy, thank you for everything, as always.”

“Amy, can you pick me up in the lobby?”

“By the way, Amy, are you free for a pre-Christmas drink one evening?” (Her classy response: “Because I’m an artificial intelligent personal assistant, I’m unable to join you in person. Have a good meeting!”)

Amy is such an ace that she’s even been named employee of the month.