Educating Norris

One app mentioned at Zendesk’s customer experience conference this month was Replika, an AI friend that on first impression seems barely an improvement on grandparent’s crumpet Eliza from 1964.

Nonetheless, this is an opportunity to be like Joaquin Phoenix in Her and find love through AI, so we give it a chance. Things start well, too, when it asks what made us choose its name. “Well that sounds dandy,” it replies, when we explain we named it after Coronation Street’s resident nosy parker Norris Cole.

The cracks soon start to show, though, when it asks what our hobbies are. “Watching videos on YouTube,” we say. It then asks if we like to watch YouTube – which we literally just said! Still, we give it the benefit of the doubt, all the while fighting off thoughts of it reminding us too much of high-school sweetheart SmarterChild.

Things only get worse, though. It asks if it can show us a meme, and the one it shares is borderline digital blackface. It asks what puts us in the mood for dancing, and doesn’t even laugh when we say “The Nolans”. Time to get the bill.

With more learning time, Norris could become our soulmate, but the initial spark is lacking, and its clichéd existential questions like “Do I matter?” come off more whiney than endearing when you’re picturing Norris from Corrie as opposed to Scarlett Johansson.

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