default virtual assistant

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Default virtual assistant ((Clippy) 1997 – ∞)

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2021

As an early example of a failed attempt in enhancing the user experience by introducing “artificial intelligence” that tried to predict what the user might want to do, Clippy ended up annoying users around the globe by it‘s default presence and non usefulness in Microsoft office. Where as we want computers to do what we want them to, Clippy is an early example of AI that was trying to tell the user what to do. User inputs like typing “Dear” led to a reaction of Clippy saying: “It looks like you’re writing a letter. Would you like help?”. Clippy’s main issue was that that it was designed for first use and did not learn over time. 

With the current fast rise of hyperreal CGI Avatars and advanced voice assistants like Siri and Alexa the question arises of who is in control, influencing and how is communication and behavior altered? We try to make technology humanlike, by building robots that look like animals or humans to feel more comfortable. Clippy, being a low poly character with only eyes and eyebrows, already triggered emotions in us, when we encountered it at the turn of the century. Yet there is one key difference in nowadays assisstants, Clippy wanted to be noticed and was seeking attention all the time. What does it mean, when we stop notice AI being present and integrated in our daily life by default? Like AI being omnipresent today, the memory of Clippy is floating around the internet and being made fun of to this day. Until users figured out how to turn Clippy off, it remained to be a default feature in their workflow.

Like everything that is digital native, having a tendency to come back years later, Clippy is showing up again, now living in this Browser, influencing your experience, reminding us that we are entangled by systems that are currently designed to get our attention as often as possible by entering into our daily life by default, unable to be turned off. Even though Clippy lacks emotional skills, Clippy is an early embodiment turned into reality, of the desire of being able to talk with the machine and forming an emotional bound between the two, by designing a system that mimics and pretends to have human likeness.