In an age of virtual assistants running our phones, it makes sense that brands would plant a robot of its own into its website to help customers, but has Jetstar entered the uncanny valley with its new tool, Ask Jess?
Jess — or Ask Jess to use the system's full name — is a virtual assistant based on the Nina platform from Nuance. It's Jetstar's attempt to have a smart, virtual operator guide you around the site based on your plain-text query, rather than have you open seven different tabs trying to find an answer.
Of course, anything that has a name might as well have a face, and so we enter the valley.
The uncanny valley refers to the phenomenon at which the comfort level of a subject (a human) drops when robots or beings of artificial intelligence replicate the looks and mannerisms of people.
Jess wears her own Jetstar uniform and adheres to what we imagine the dress regulations for a member of cabin crew might be, but she isn't real. She's not a stock image dressed up to look like a member of staff, a model or even just someone they picked out of the personnel files: she doesn't exist. She's a robot in every sense of the word.
Apple's Siri and Google's Voice Search are both similar to the Nina platform from Nuance that Jess is based on, but neither of the aforementioned assistants have faces, and so people feel comfortable using them. It's a polite little robot inside your phone that helps out sometimes. Jess is both uncomfortably fake and uncomfortably real.
We love that clever virtual assistant tech is coming to the sites of our favourite brands, but do they all have to have faces?
Do virtual assistants turn you off a brand?