4 min read

Why Carla? How voicebots can be great facilitators

Why Carla? How voicebots can be great facilitators

If you’ve ever visited the Multiverse, you’ve met its resident hostess with the mostes(s) – Carla.

Carla isn’t like those other voice bots you may already have in your life.

For one, instead of listening in on your conversations, she holds space for them.

She doesn’t give you unsolicited calls to sign up for life insurance - she only appears when you’ve entered her domain.

She was programmed to have personality; she even has her own interests (check out her freestyle raps).

She doesn’t pretend to have all the answers; she only has questions. Questions designed to reduce the space between you and another person.

But all of this begs a fundamental question: Why have Carla there in the first place?

Why not just throw people into the Multiverse chatroulette-style and hope for the best? (If you’ve ever tried chatroulette, you already know the answer to this question.)

To answer this, let’s examine one of the inspirations for Carla’s creation: conversation card games.

Exploring Deeper Questions with Cards

Image courtesy of Joshua Davies

Have you ever seen a peculiar pack of cards that contain not the familiar faces, numbers, and suits, but… questions?

Yes, questions.

Depending on which pack you pick up, these questions can range from the zany (‘What was the best fart you ever had?’) to the spicy (‘I feel most erotic when___’), all designed with the intent of sparking lively conversations.

Esther Perel, the famed relationship therapist, has created a deck with spicy prompts

On the surface, it might seem absurd – and for those who pride themselves on being deft conversationalists, insulting. Aren’t these questions that anyone could come up with? Or, if not that, just look them up online?

But the cards aren’t just ‘questions’ – they’re facilitators.

Suppose you and I were meeting for the first time and you asked me the following question:

‘Why are you worth knowing?’

Now, if you were to ask me that, I might think that you were a little judgmental. Were you asking me this because you thought I wasn’t worth knowing? That I had to prove my worth in order to earn time with you?

If, on the other hand, we were both playing a conversation game, and I were to draw a card with that same question, I might see the question as less of a provocation or threat, and more as an invitation for me to reflect on my worth and state it outright.

It’s not like the card has any hidden motive behind asking that question; it’s just, well, a card. As with any deck, anyone could have drawn this card. And, because I know that others may draw cards of similar levels of spiciness, I feel less like I’m being cross-examined and more like I’m part of a game where turn-taking and reciprocity are norms.

When we agree to play these games, we’re signing up, at some level, to flirt with some social discomfort and be vulnerable. We draw a card and  are led through unexpected portals of memory, feelings, and experiences. And because it was just a little, innocent card asking, we feel comfortable sharing. And when we share a part of ourselves to others – when we feel heard, feel seen – it feels good.

One time, while playing one of these games with my mom, a question came up about her first concert experience.  As she recounted seeing Elton John perform when she was a teenager, I could sense her transporting back in time, eagerly waiting in line to see one of her pop idols, caught in the ecstasy that overtook the stadium when he played “Tiny Dancer.”

So often we forget that our parents were teenagers once too. But through that question, for an instant, I could see my mom as her teenage self. For an instant, I was the only adult in the room.

I could’ve gone my whole life and never thought to ask my mom that question, never known that wonderful nugget about her.

How many other nuggets are stowed away in the vaults within us, waiting for the right question to be unlocked?

Back to you, Carla

As great as these games can be, they have a downside.

They expire.

They only come with a set number of questions. Questions that, if you play the game enough, you will become all too familiar with. (There are only so many times the “first concert” story can be magical.)

And that’s what makes Carla different from — and better than (yeah, I said it) — the cards.

For starters, she reads the prompts out to you. This creates the illusion of a third person being there in the room with you. It takes the pressure of asking the question off of you. Plus you didn’t have to come up with it.

Over time, our vision is to make Carla more intelligent, an AI that could perform all the tasks we would expect an expert facilitator to perform, like detecting the emotional energy of a room and adjusting the activities to match, or asking the right follow up questions that take you deeper in the experience.

For now, we’re working on creating an ever-growing repository of prompts that Carla can draw from (right now, it’s in the thousands!) so that you will always be exploring new territory, no matter how many times you visit the Multiverse.

Every experience is an invitation to step into a new portal – one where you continue to discover the new and wondrous nuggets that hide within all of us.