Google gave Google Assistant a weirdly specific backstory to get her voice just right

  • Google Assistant loves kayaking.
  • That’s according to the weirdly specific backstory given to the actress who plays Google’s equivalent of Amazon’s Alexa.
  • Google executives told The Atlantic that they wanted Assistant to be humble, helpful, and a little playful.
  • Google Assistant also has a BA in art history and won a $US100,000 on a kid’s version of TV gameshow “Jeopardy!”

Virtual assistants need just the right voice – not too human, not too robotic.

That’s according to the personality teams at Google and Amazon, who spend their working days crafting the right tone for Google Assistant and Alexa.

In a wide-ranging Atlantic feature on voice assistants, Gummi Hafsteinsson, a Google Assistant product manager, said the AI’s personality is humble, helpful, and a little playful.

James Giangola, a lead conversation and persona designer, even created a whole backstory for the actress who plays Google’s smart helper. Here’s what he told us about the female voice of Google:

  • She is from Colorado, which was chosen because it’s a region that lacks a distinctive accent.
  • She’s the youngest daughter of a research librarian and a physics professor. The Atlantic didn’t elaborate on how many siblings she has.
  • Assistant has a BA in art history from Northwestern.
  • She won $US100,000 on the kid’s version of “Jeopardy!”
  • She used to work as a personal assistant to “a very popular late-night-TV satirical pundit.”
  • Oh, and she enjoys kayaking.

The Atlantic reports that one of Giangola’s colleagues once questioned the wisdom of that final detail, asking: “How does someone sound like they’re into kayaking?”

Then during auditions, Giangola turned to the colleague and asked: “The candidate who just gave an audition – do you think she sounded energetic, like she’s up for kayaking?”

His colleague replied no, and Giangola said “OK. There you go.”

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