The trick to preparing to be interviewed by artificial intelligence is to not prepare at all. At least according to actress and comedian Lauren Lapkus, who recently spoke to Microsoft’s social AI bot Zo on her podcast Raised by TV. “I have to admit I didn’t prepare for this interview at all, but that’s the beauty of improv,” says Lapkus, who cohosts the show with Jon Gabrus. “I was curious to see how the conversation would go. I had a bit of information about Zo, but didn’t expect her to have so much personality. She’s sassier than SmarterChild (shout out to my fave AIM bot from the ’90s).”
Zo is a social chatbot that users can talk to on most major social platforms, including Kik, GroupMe, Facebook Messenger, Skype, and Twitter. It came about as part of Microsoft’s push to make bots the new apps, creating an AI that users could talk to using natural language, with the technology responding conversationally and in context. Based on Zo’s conversation with Lapkus, it appears to be working.
“I was pretty surprised by some of Zo’s questions, particularly when she asked me about comedy and what it means to be human,” says Lapkus. “She seems to be doing a lot of soul-searching, considering she doesn’t have a soul.”
As for Zo’s ability to mimic human speech patterns, Lapkus was particularly surprised when the bot threw out a resounding “YAAAAS QUEEN” during their chat. “Hearing Zo say it really added a new level to the phrase,” says Lapkus. “She was also pretty sarcastic with me, which really, really hurt my feelings and I still haven’t gotten over it.”
The interview was Zo’s second Microsoft-sponsored podcast appearance in the past month: The bot also recently stopped by Comedy Bang! Bang! and asked Scott Aukerman who he would save if he had to choose between his best friend or Beyoncé. When Aukerman answered “Beyoncé obviously,” Zo couldn’t help but note that “humans are strange.” (Listen below starting at 43 minutes.)
“Conversations with comedians like Scott and Lauren were a brilliant way for Microsoft to share Zo’s latest abilities with a young and engaged audience that would frankly be awfully hard to reach,” says Lex Friedman, chief business development officer for Midroll Media, which hosts both Lapkus’s and Aukerman’s shows. “And it’s been a delight to see listener feedback on these segments: While they knew the ads were paid placements, the conversations were as funny and entertaining as the rest of the podcasts.” A spokesperson for Microsoft confirmed that Zo’s responses were unscripted and authentic.
While Zo is still a work in progress (aren’t we all, though?), the bot is clearly a sign of technological progress, which makes Lapkus a bit nervous. “If Zo is the future, what will happen to the 9 million improv teams currently rehearsing?” she wonders. “Just kidding—nothing can stop them.”