Humans of Edubots - Lars Willner

Written by:
Antonela Čižmešija
from Norway

What's your name, how old are you and where do you come from?

Lars Willner, 39 year's old. I'm born and raised in Sweden, but I live in beautiful Oslo, the capital of Norway.

What do you do for a living?

I'm exploring how chatbots and conversation technology can help students develop psychological safety and build relationships in learning communities. I'm the CEO of a small Norwegian company called Differ.Chat, which is also the coordinating this amazing Edubots project.

What is your favorite thing about your job?

I love getting to know new people from different countries and cultures, and also making use of new tech innovations.

Can you remember the first time you met a chatbot?

I can't remember the first chatbot, but when thinking about it, some of the computer games I played as a kid had conversational design as part of the core game experience. Even though it was "scripted" conversations, it did make it feel like I had a personal and direct conversation with the game characters. And perhaps even more importantly, it made me feel like one of the characters myself! Unfortunately, I can't remember the name of the game but I think many games had similar conversational interfaces.

How would you describe your current relationship to chatbots?

I think my relationship with chatbots is primarily a job relationship, as I still don't invite bots in to my personal life that often. Personally, I think I would have invited a virtual voice assistant home, if it wasn't for some family data privacy concerns from other family members. Professionally, I'm convinced of the potential value of next-generation chatbots and conversational agents, providing a more personal and engaging user experience. But data privacy is a challenging but important topic to address.

How do you believe students will engage with chatbots in the future?

I think some students will have regular conversations with chatbots on a daily basis, with topics ranging both the personal and academic domain. We will see new human-chatbot relationships emerge, and they will include forms of emotional ties to chatbots that would make it feel as the loss of a close friend if it was taken away from them. Students would be empowered to gain control of the character and design of their chatbot companions, their personal data and personal algorithms

What are you hoping to get out from the Edubots project?

I'm hoping to feel part of a community of explorers and creators, to learn from academic experts and practitioners in Higher Education.