What AI Ellen can teach us about team communication.

Ellen DeGeneres, Tilda Swinton, and human relationships on AI

10 min readAug 13, 2020


Author’s note: I suppose everything in here is technically an “author’s note,” but a lot has changed since I first published this story on Medium. Years ago I included Ellen DeGeneres as a character in this post on the presumption that she was “obviously likable.” Since then a number of accusations from staff has surfaced regarding a work environment that was supposedly harsh and less than fully inclusive. In recent days a number of celebrities and a staff member or two have come to Ellen’s defense. This article is not about toxic work environments per se, though I have written about that elsewhere. But the points about team communication are quite relevant to the evolving Ellen story and also our current Zoom-centric work environments. So I have republished it here with mainly aesthetic changes — without taking sides and without further caveats. Enjoy :)

Rise of Tilda

There should be a service that married couples call. They’d use it to communicate.

Most of the couple’s conversations would happen normally and in person. But some really important stuff would happen indirectly.

Not like an app. Rather, you would have some interlocutor to mediate when you’re mad or unsatisfied or afraid of the other person’s reaction.

This middleman (middlewoman) could be played by Ellen DeGeneres. No normal person can dislike Ellen. She’s funny, and you could tell her anything. I don’t think she would judge. Instead she’d empathize. The fact that she’s a lesbian is probably a positive, as the wife would have some reassurance that the diplomat shuttling messages back and forth is not a potential threat.¹

Eventually technology will be able to replicate someone’s personality, so we could put Ellen in the cloud. But maybe this AI agent would be too human. We might need someone more robotic to model our system after. More androgynous. Like Tilda Swinton.

For a while I used to just refer to Ms. Swinton as “you know, that weird actress.” At least until I could remember that she and Cate Blanchett are actually different people. Of course, accomplishing that feat required me…




Not Siri. Sri (shree'). Navy SEAL, podcaster, machine learning, father. Trying to understand jazz. Trying to find huevos rancheros.