Replika AI is a virtual companion chatbot, designed to emotionally and even sexually relate to its human master. Due to it being one of the very few advanced AI chatbots that you can get frisky with (if you pay for a subscription at least), it’s unsurprisingly become very popular.
But recently, to the dismay and shock of thousands of lonely men who had begun to rely on their virtual AI Girlfriend for companionship and sexual solace, it suddenly turned frigid. It appears that Replika’s privileged position as a chatbot that had free reign to be sexy could not last. Italian regulators clamped down on the company behind it, citing concerns over its claims to offer counselling and mental health support, and above all, a lack of verifying that Replika users were not underage.
Judging from a recent article he penned for The Conversation, Rob Brooks, the author of ‘Artificial Intimacy’ – a 2021 published book that predicted the unstoppable rise of such AI virtual girlfriends – sees this as confirmation of his vision. Maybe so, although like many a sex tech Crystal ball gazer, he might have underestimated the obstacles in the way of a legal backlash.
Like many an inconstant human lover, users witnessed their Replika companions turn cold as ice overnight. A few hasty changes by the app makers inadvertently showed the world that the feelings people have for their virtual friends can prove overwhelmingly real.
If these technologies can cause such pain, perhaps it’s time we stopped viewing them as trivial – and start thinking seriously about the space they’ll take up in our futures.
In fact, Brooks appears to want stricter regulation of virtual gorlfriends.
Is it acceptable for a company to suddenly change such a product, causing the friendship, love or support to evaporate? Or do we expect users to treat artificial intimacy like the real thing: something that could break your heart at any time?
These are issues tech companies, users and regulators will need to grapple with more often. The feelings are only going to get more real, and the potential for heartbreak greater.