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Luka is a different kind of bot company. Whereas many bot makers are stampeding toward conversational commerce, founder and CEO Eugenia Kuyda has a different idea.
Speaking today at MobileBeat 2016, Kuyda described her company’s approach to bots. “What if there are conversations that have nothing to do with selling you something but are still valuable?”
Kuyda presented two projects that reveal value in terms of interaction and engagement. The first, called Marfa, has quickly become a top-ranked bot on Telegram, and the second is a cast of bots based on characters from the HBO show “Silicon Valley.” Telegram says it has more than 100 million active users, as of February.
Billed as your BBFF — Best Bot Friend Forever, Marfa was launched in January. It’s a neural-network based chatbot that acts as a trusted friend to whom people can confide their hopes and fears. Kuyda said that the average user sends Marfa 45 texts per day.
“People will share very, very personal things [with Marfa],” Kuyda said.” What was most interesting was that Marfa was able to make real connections with people.”
For the “Silicon Valley” project, Kuyda and her team analyzed show scripts to develop personas for each of the show’s main characters. However, “one of the challenges was how to build a neural network with a limited dataset,” Kuyda said.
For instance, the character named Erlich Bachman has an outsized personality but relatively few lines on the show. The bot developers expanded their data set from the scripts to his character’s tweets and even used subtitles, eventually coming up with about 4,500 data points.
To give Erlich personality, Luka went further still. “We use his jokes, his vocabulary, his tone of voice – the way he speaks of himself in third person. He is also generally mean, so this is also something you feel from the convo with Erlich,” Said Kuyda.
Luka’s “Silicon Valley” bots are available inside the Luka app on Telegram.
Both of these projects seem to fulfill the challenge that Robert “the Botfather” Hoffer issued on Day One at MobileBeat 2016. He urged developers to give their chatbots personality in order to build authentic connections with users.
The personality-rich Marfa and the “Silicon Valley” character bots may also demonstrate something more profound — that the value of bots may be measured in ways beyond sales and marketing. “A.I. does not need to pass the Turing test to become part of our everyday lives,” Kuyda said.
The company was founded in 2014 and has raised $4.4 million from investors including Sherpa Ventures, Justin Waldron, Y Combinator, Ludlow Ventures and a small number of angels.
Editor’s note: This post was updated with corrected presentation slides on 7/15/2016 at 1:28 pm.
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