I was in my bedroom when the doorbell rang. I heard my sister talking to someone, then she called out, “Cathy! You have a visitor.”

This was surprising. I was a freshman in high school and didn’t get a lot of friends dropping by. I walked down the hall and when I turned the corner, I saw him: Diamond Dave. And he was holding a gun. He opened the screen door and started chasing me down the hall, peppering me with soft yellow rubber bullets.

Satisfied he’d hit his target, he left without a word, leaving my mother in the…

Grandma Pearl in her rose garden in 2001

“Girls! Too much sugar!” This was a common refrain from my grandmother during Canasta games in which my sister and I would get sillier and sillier as the game wore on. She taught us to play the game when I was still so young I couldn’t fit all 11 cards in my hand at once; I had to go in the other room to sort them.

I loved those Canasta games with my sister and my grandparents. It was one of the highlights of visiting them at their home in Eastern Washington, along with visits to the cherry farm they…

Photo by Dan Farrell on Unsplash

Of all the questions I get asked about conversation design, “how do I become a conversation designer?” is the most common.

There is no simple formula, unfortunately. I know conversation designers who used to be linguistics professors, professional musicians, stand-up comics, and electrical engineers. There’s no one path.

That being said, there are things you can do to pursue this as a career. I’ll outline a variety of strategies, and provide resources and suggestions.

First, a bit about my own journey. I’ve been interested in talking to computers since I was a kid, which I wrote about recently in my…

Me in the studio as a guest on the Webby Awards podcast

I’ve seen many articles and blog posts on how to start a podcast, how to run a podcast, and how to host (there’s even a podcast ABOUT starting a podcast), but I rarely see advice on how to be a good podcast GUEST.

Here are some tips on making the most of the experience.

So, you’ve been asked to be on a podcast! Woo hoo! Now what?


First off: you do not have to say yes. Podcasts take time and energy, and you presumably are not being paid. On the other hand, they can be a lot of fun, and…

Originally published at scifiinterfaces.com.

In 8th grade, I went on our class trip to Washington D.C. The hotel we were staying at had kids from all over the country, and one night they held a dance. I had changed into sweats and a t-shirt and was dancing away with my friends when a boy walked up behind me, tapped me on the shoulder, and said, “Fairy!”

Image of Cortana from the video game Halo
Cortana from the game Halo

When I turned around and the boy realized I was a girl, he got a confused look on his face, mumbled something and walked off. I was left feeling angry and hurt.

Humans have…

In Part 1, I introduced the chatbot I programmed when I was 12, on my Commodore 64. It includes a video demo of the chatbot in action.

This post is all about the technical side of things: how the program worked, and how I was able to run it, 35 years later.

Code Breakdown

The Conversation program itself is only 36 lines of code. The rest is composed of DATA statements, where the query / responses are stored. Here’s the whole program (minus the DATA statements):

10 rem ** conversation **
20 poke53281,1:poke53280,6:print””
30 dl= 1342
40 f=1000:diman$(f),bn$(f),cn$(f),dn$(f)
50 print””:goto120
60 print””chr$(147)dl”data”cz$;a$;cz$”,”cz$;b$;cz$
70 printdl+1"data”cz$;c$;cz$”,”cz$;e$;cz$
80 print”30 dl=”;dl+2
90 print”run30"
100 poke631,19:poke632,13:poke633,13:poke634,13:poke635,13

Me at the Computer History museum checking out the computers of my childhood

Think chatbots are pretty new? Let’s hop in a time machine and go back…way back…to 1984.

I had just turned twelve when I decided to write my first chatbot. I’d been programming for a while (first on a Commodore Vic-20, and then on a Commodore 64), and I was inspired by an issue of the magazine Compute’s Gazette.

Me in Colorado in 1996, contemplating my future

Academic probation. I read the letter with a mixture of anger and disbelief. How could I, always such a good student, be getting such a notice?

I had just completed the first year of my master’s program in computer science at Indiana University. It had been a challenging time. I had moved from California to a state where I didn’t know a single soul. Shortly after I arrived, my boyfriend of five years came for a visit — and broke up with me.

I started dating a fellow computer science student shortly thereafter, but at the end of our first…

The Juvet Landscape Hotel, location for our AI retreat

I recently attended an artificial intelligence retreat in Norway. Why Norway? Well, for one thing, Norway is breathtakingly beautiful, so why not? But also, because we stayed at the Juvet Landscape Hotel, where many of the scenes from the movie Ex Machina were filmed.

Ex Machina is an interesting but ultimately problematic film. Many others have written about the misogyny of yet another movie where men create androids that have to be beautiful women, so I won’t dwell on it here. Suffice it to say, the movie provided a good backdrop for many of our AI discussions that week. At…

At the KNIME User Group Meeting in Berlin (2015)

I’ve always been a person of “what ifs”. What if the cat gets sick right before we leave on our big trip? What if I get on the wrong bus? What if I sign up to do something but I don’t know how to do it?

In 2014, I decided to try something a little different, ignoring the doubts and saying “yes” to as many things as I could.

The lead-up to this period of saying yes had started years before. …

Cathy Pearl

Design manager on Google Assistant @ Google. Author of "Designing Voice User Interfaces" from O'Reilly (More at https://cathypearl.com)

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