The PullString platform for the creation of storytelling bots made its debut today. For the better part of the last decade, the PullString platform has been used internally to create characters like Lt. Reyes from Call of Duty Facebook Messenger bot, and interactive products like Hello Barbie and Thomas the Tank Engine.
The platform is the years-long culmination of work between former Pixar employees, a team of engineers, accomplished screenwriters, and onstage actors.
“We wanted to build a world-class set of tools that takes the concepts of A.I. and NLP and speech recognition and machine learning and the rest, express those through an interface that a great writer has a chance of getting ahold of and [is] able to craft with. That’s what the platform was designed to do,” CEO Oren Jacob told VentureBeat in an interview at the PullString office in San Francisco.
Bots or characters made with PullString can be used on Facebook Messenger, Slack, Skype, and Kik, as well as with Alexa, Internet of Things devices, or even a toy. Though the company has a reputation for making characters for children’s toys, PullString will be able to make characters for all ages.
The platform comes with a set of tools designed to give creatives “the capacity to craft in conversation.” You can build with a basic drag-and-drop style if you want, but the platform goes beyond structured messages to help with things like the repurposing and reuse of language through machine learning, the PullString A.I. engine, and natural language processing.
PullString was created by former Pixar employees in 2011. In May, the company changed its name from ToyTalk to reflect the platform that has been a work-in-progress for five years.
A professional services group that has been active from the start landing jobs for PullString creations will remain active, but Jacob said he expects things to change.
“I suspect that by next year it [the platform] will become the dominant part of the business,” Jacob said.
Jacob believes PullString is a fundamentally more powerful platform than most other platforms for the creation of bots and characters.
“If you pick up projects as complicated and rich as Hello Barbie, there are thousands and thousands of lines of dialogue in her [character], which become tens of thousands of different intents, different context, and ways in which the conversation can branch and change,” Jacob said.
Try that with a simpler bot platform, he argues, and once you get past 40 decisions you’re “in a sea of lines.”
“To handle a project of that depth, to build a conversation that can go on for 20-30 hours if you binge-conversed with her [Hello Barbie] takes a very special, very capable, very powerful toolset,” Jacob said.
PullString has made a point of employing professional screenwriters throughout its development process. Companies with bots that are more than a few years old understand that an editorial team is key to a bot’s success, regardless of its technical prowess.
The platform employed screenwriters because computer science majors write terrible dialogue, Jacob said. In addition to computer scientists, PullString hires stage actors, voice talent, and screenwriters who know how to write dialogue.
With Call of Duty bot and Humani: Jessie’s Story, PullString began to broaden the age range of its characters. And with the newly released platform, the company also plans to expand beyond its initial focus on entertainment. Human relations, banking, and travel bots are in the works, Jacob said.
As part of the launch, five new bot announcements related to the PullString platform will be made in the next five weeks, starting with a bot for the Channel 4 series Humans and Barbie’s Hello Dreamhouse, Jacob said.
PullString has taken $44 million in funding from investors since 2011. The company has 40 employees and is based in San Francisco.