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Tag: Hofstede

Humor and AI: Does it travel?

Localization Technology, Personalization and Design

Conversational interfaces such as chatbots and voice assistants present many localization challenges — humor, for example. And that’s not even considering if the original content was all that funny to begin with.The secret to AI comedy must be in the data Click To Tweet

Humor: The final frontier

“Are there any Scottish people in the audience?”

Always a great start to a presentation at a conference. The response I received was, “You’re going to show that Scottish Elevator Voice UI video, right?”

I wasn’t.

Instead, I used the top jokes from the 2018 Edinburgh Festival Fringe as my opener to a workshop at ConverCon 18 on the subject of artificial intelligence (AI), personality, and conversational UI.

Of course, humor is an integral dimension of human personality and therefore part of that natural, conversational human-machine dialog. But humor has been called the final barrier for AI for good reason. There are many challenges.

I began my ConverCon workshop by telling the best joke from the Fringe.

“Working at the Jobcentre has to be a tense job — knowing that if you get fired, you still have to come in the next day.”

As soon as I recited the joke, I realized that it may not have been that funny to my global audience. Had they any idea what a Jobcentre is? It’s a British public service. In Ireland, the equivalent, an Intreo Centre, is offered by the Department of Work Affairs and Social Protection. In the United States, it might be called a WorkForce Center or One-Stop Center.

Conversational UI and the secret to comedy

Real US English examples of conversational interfaces, chatbots and AI can be tricky when it comes to humor.

Take this processing message from the Meekan scheduling robot on Slack. It makes a “witty” reference to hacking into TSA servers and No Fly Lists. I really winced at that one. I know what the TSA and No Fly Lists are, and I still didn’t get the joke.

Meekan scheduling robot on Slack (Image by Ultan O'Broin)

Meekan scheduling robot on Slack (Image by Ultan O’Broin)

This got me thinking about the challenges of humor and AI. If the secret to human comedy is timing, then the secret to AI comedy must be in the data, as well as the context.

Humor does have a place in conversational interaction, even in the most seemingly unlikely interactions, for example, Woebot. But humor needs to be done right.

Humor is not only the final frontier for AI, it’s a human personality trait that is easily lost in translation. Worse still, even in the original language, humor is not always that funny to everyone in a native audience. Of course, you don’t have to be Geert Hofstede to realize that humor doesn’t travel across cultures, but machines don’t get that. Yet.

So, as the localization industry rises to the challenge of dealing with AI, personality, humor, and the realization that no UI is the best UI of all, we can expect new talents will flourish to ensure that the conversational user experience resonates with the target audience. Do today’s translators need to have performing arts backgrounds or be comedians to enhance that local conversational interaction? I think storytelling skills are about to become hot property in every language.

Do today's translators need to have performing arts backgrounds or be comedians to enhance that local conversational interaction? Click To Tweet

Your punchline?

You may have other examples of humor and localization challenges from the world of technology. If so, share them in the comments!

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Ultan Ó Broin (@localization), is an independent UX consultant. With three decades of UX and L10n experience and outreach, he specializes in helping people ensure their global digital transformation makes sense culturally and also reflects how users behave locally.

Any views expressed are his own. Especially the ones you agree with.

Vive La French Tech! Chatbots, French Style

Language, Localization Technology, Personalization and Design

A Chat About Bots

Conversational UI, that natural interaction between human and technology, is a hot topic worldwide, and the localization requirements for creating a great contextual natural user experience are fascinating and challenging, none more so than in the case of chatbots.

La French Tech. See https://www.facebook.com/LaFrenchTechEN/ for more information!

La French Tech. See https://www.facebook.com/LaFrenchTechEN/ for more information on the French technology startup and investment community.

As Arle Lommel from CommonSense Advisory says: Chatbots pose challenges fundamentally different from what is seen with traditional content. The shift to conversational structures and the need to embrace “messy” terminology are among these. Click To Tweet

There are other challenges too. Plan ahead.

What’s Going On Globally?

Here’s a great example from France by way of an article featuring Amina Esselimani, a top French user experience design thinker, published on the Prototypr blog: Conversational interface for chatbot & voicebot: the French touch.

The article itself gives good insight into why chatbots should be used, and the methodologies involved. I was fascinated by the human-oriented design language used by Amina to describe her work, using phrases such as “happy path” and “repair conversations.”

Her comments about using the “Wizard of Oz” design requirements technique, engaging with conversational style content experts, and iterative testing with real users really resonated too. We've moved from user-centered design to human-centered design, and dealing with how humans actually communicate and simulating that kind of exchange can indeed be very messy in any language! Click To Tweet

I also checked out some of the chatbot solutions Amina worked on, such as the Oui.SNCF bot. I wondered if it had a French personality (personality is a critical design element in conversational UI) and what the tone would be my questions about the ongoing SNCF rolling strikes.

Hofstede's six dimensions of national culture. A useful starting point, but real users doing real jobs in real places are the best way to determine the appropriate bot personality for the job to be done.

Hofstede’s six dimensions of national culture, in this case comparing France with Ireland and the United States of America. Hofstede’s work is a useful starting point when developing a bot personalit, but real users doing real jobs in real places are the best way to determine the appropriate bot personality for the job to be done.

All utterances were handled very diplomatically, I must say, even making sense of my mangled French language utterances!

Out.SNCF chatbot available in multiple languages too.

Out.SNCF chatbot is available in multiple languages too. I stuck with French!

Alexa en Français

You might also like to read Wired’s fascinating, and sometimes humorous artlcle, Inside Amazon’s Painstaking Pursuit to Teach Alexa French in the run up to its launch in France.

Amazon Echo (Alexa) launch advertisement.

Amazon Echo voice assistant was launched in France in June 2018. Alexa was trained to be speak and act “French”.


Cultural differences create conversational landmines. And you just can’t be sure that everyone will like you. As it turns out, that as true for people as it is for Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant. Click To Tweet

More information on globalization methods for conversational UIs and chatbots?

To understand more of the challenges presented by chatbot and conversational UI design and the cultural considerations involved, then check out my SF Globalization presentation and handy checklist on the subject of chatbot design for  global and local audiences: “Alexa, Tell Me About Global Chatbot Design and Localization!”

All images by Utan O’Broin

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Ultan Ó Broin (@localization), is an independent UX consultant. With three decades of UX and L10n experience and outreach, he specializes in helping people ensure their global digital transformation makes sense culturally and also reflects how users behave locally.

Any views expressed are his own. Especially the ones you agree with.