An Odd Tale of Digital Assistants

Mention “digital assistants” these days and most people will think of Alexa or Siri. But they’re way older than that.

When banks were designing the first ATMs in the early 1970s, they weren’t sure people would know how to use them. Consider: if you’d never seen an ATM before, would you KNOW exactly what to do?

The First National Bank of Atlanta thought about that, and created one of the first digital assistants, a friendly blonde avatar named Tillie, to walk customers through their transaction. She was such an integral part of the experience that the machines were called “Tillie the Alltime Teller”. And they were so popular with customers that within weeks of her 1974 debut Atlantans started calling all ATMs “Tillie Machines” or “Tillies”. “We need to stop by the Tillie for some cash,” you’d say.

Tillie the Alltime Teller

Banks from all over the country came to Atlanta to see how Tillie worked, and some of those banks liked her so much they licensed the technology and image from FirstAtlanta. This is why, if you google “Tillie Teller”, Google Images will return results for Tillie ephemera from American State Bank of Texas and Florida National Bank.

But HERE’s the part that will blow your mind: Tillie’s voice was that of a woman named Susan Bennett… who would later go on to become famous as… Siri!

So the woman behind the most popular digital assistant in history is the same woman behind one of the very first digital assistants!

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