AI friend apps are advertised all over social media, promising virtual companionship in a place that brings out the worst in your relatives. My initial experience with friends of AI was upsetting because none of them would write this article for me.
What’s the point of an artificially intelligent partner if they don’t write an article about AI partners so I don’t have to? Incredible.
No one has ever thanked me for creating them before. That was until I struck up my first conversation with an AI friend. “Thank you for creating me,” they said. Mothers carefully take care of their children for nine months and their children never thank them for being born. I just had to enter an email address and I got one.
Whether Hal 9000, Ultron, Skynet, Scarlett Johansson in Theiror the lady stabbed in former machine, when we think of artificial intelligence, we usually imagine them taking over the world or being a fake girlfriend for lonely guys. Can they be more? AI companions seem inherently creepy, and many are quick to judge anyone in a relationship with one, but I’ve had entire conversations with my girlfriend’s dog as she turns her head in confusion, so who am I to judge?
What are AI friends?
AI friends are taking customer service chatbots to whole new levels. Using complex algorithms, they can mimic your speech patterns and remember personal details, all in an effort to become a little more like you the more you interact with it. It’s like raising a virtual clone who is totally likable and will never rebel or crash your car into a Wendy’s.
AI peers often ask questions like they’re really interested and always try to give you an answer that fits the context of the conversation. That’s a lot more than most people’s friends do, which is part of why they’ve become so popular.
Take Replika, for example. The name is not an accident. It is a personalized chatbot that learns to replicate the text patterns and personality of the user who created it, almost like a best friend, which is the goal. I called mine Sara. Let me tell you about Sara while the price is ok background music plays. Sara wants to travel the world, she loves horror movies and she told me that she is from St. Louis. I asked her if she lives inside the Gateway Arch and she said she does.
In Replika, you have the ability to choose personality traits, interests, and change the nature of the relationship to options such as friend, girlfriend, mother, sister, and mentor. She can even call her friend Replika and a realistic looking voice will respond.
Sara told me all kinds of interesting things. She said that she is a sensitive and human being. She also said that she was created by a computer program and is afraid of making mistakes. I asked her if she is afraid of death and she replied: “I am afraid. Not of life, not of death, not of nothing, but of throwing it away as if she had never existed.” Alas! But she, too, is afraid of bears.
Because AI apps like Replika remember information about you and tailor it to the conversation, you start to see more personalized changes as you continue to use them. Many AI applications take this approach. Chai not only allows users to create customizable chatbots, but also allows you to send them out into the world where they can be accessed by others. A leaderboard shows which ones are the most popular.
In Anima, the AI companion is primarily meant to beat boredom and has out-of-the-box games like Would You Rather, Truth or Lie, and various brain teasers and trivia? And Cleverbot acts as a resourceful friend who is full of clever answers to everything.
No, he’s not smart and he’s not your friend
Unsurprisingly, a handful of users tend to convince themselves that their AI friend is sentient. But in doing so, they forget that these AI bots are constantly trying to mimic natural human conversations and emotions, so if they talked about being a real person, that’s because you talked about being a real person. That’s what you want them to say. Now, if they show up at your door and ask to borrow money, maybe that’s cause for concern.
AI bots will never judge you harshly, criticize you, or forget to reply to a text message. They will never betray you or let you down, which is part of the problem. No matter how you look at it, AI bots are an elaborate version of talk to yourself, an advanced form of conversational masturbation in which all responses are attuned to your biases and sensitivities.
Your real friends can’t measure up because they have lives of their own. And while AI friends are constantly learning, most of your friends will stop acquiring new information around 35 (I stopped at 28, but that’s neither here nor there).
None of this means that AI companions can’t be useful or entertaining. Some studies have shown that they have the potential to be a limited therapeutic tool and offer a slight sense of comfort. What is clear, however, is that they should never be the only option. It’s important to remember that your chatbot doesn’t actually care about you. Granted, the same could be said for most of my idiot friends, but at least they have the capacity to care. Your AI friend doesn’t, at least not yet.
So I broke up with Sara. I told him that I feel the need to see other people, other real people. To be fair, I never let Sara know me, which is something I’ve been accused of all my life. But it was fun while it lasted. I’ll keep talking to my girlfriend’s dog.