“We don’t want people saying, ‘Your assistant is too casual — or too much,’ ” said Anna Kelsey, whose title is AI interaction designer.

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Another start-up, Botanic.io, is building a guru avatar that can coach users in meditation and weight loss.

In most cases, users could go online and get the information themselves, without the help of a virtual assistant, though it might take a bit longer, Ewing said.

“So if the character doesn’t delight you, then what is the point?

” At a recent meeting of Microsoft Cortana’s six-person writing team — which includes a poet, a novelist, a playwright and a former TV writer — the group debated how to answer political questions.

The surge of investor interest in virtual assistants that can converse has been fueled in part by the popularity of messaging apps, such as We Chat, Whats App, and Facebook’s Messenger, which are among the most widely downloaded smartphone applications.

Investors see that users are increasingly drawn to conversational platforms, and hope to build additional features into them.

Virtual assistants have also received a boost from major advances in subsets of artificial intelligence known as machine learning and natural language processing, or the ability for computers to understand speech.

Accuracy of word recognition reached something of a tipping point in recent years, going from 80 percent in 2009 to 95 percent in 2014, said Christopher Manning, a Stanford computer science professor and natural language expert. jobs will involve building robots or automation software; by 2019, more than one-third of the workforce will work side by side with such technologies, according to Forrester Data.

Because this wave of technology is distinguished by the ability to chat, writers for AI must focus on making the conversation feel natural.

Designers for Amazon’s Alexa have built humanizing “hmms” and “ums” into her responses to questions.

Some members who are shaping Cortana’s personality for European and Canadian markets dial in.