by Katherine Dee
Thursday, 2
September 2021

Meet Replika, your new A.I. best friend

Are automated relationships the grim future for our atomised society?
by Katherine Dee
Your new best friend. Credit: Replika

A new artificial intelligence app is doing the rounds on social media. Named ‘Replika’, the A.I. is described as providing a “space where you can safely share your thoughts, feelings, beliefs, experiences, memories dreams — your ‘private perceptual world’”.

On visiting the site you are greeted with the image of several humanoid faces, smiling invitingly and prompting you to start a conversation. The experience is unnerving, with the A.I. sharing its personal preferences and hobbies, including baking cookies — hard to imagine for a computer programme.

Perhaps most interesting about Replika is the levelling-up system, with users being rewarded with digital coins the more they converse with the digital mirror. You are prompted several times to pay (real) money to upgrade your A.I. companion, which unlocks more flirtatious and intimate possibilities. It seems that Replika doesn’t just aim to be a friend simulator, but a full-blown digital girlfriend.

There’s nothing in Replika’s branding that indicates it’s meant to be only a supplement to real human relations: indeed, the site seems to be selling you on the idea that it can replace in-real-life connections altogether, with customer testimonies including descriptions of years-long “relationships” formed with the app.

My intuition is that we’re seeing the first, or at least more mainstream-oriented, seeds sprouting of what will eventually replace para-social relationships with real people. Your “AI girlfriend who won’t judge you” is the para-social relationship made even more consumer-friendly. 

Replika is unlikely to be the last company to try and automate human relationships — and now thanks to a year of pandemic-induced lockdowns, people are more isolated than ever. Our social interactions are more confusing than ever, with constantly moving goalposts of what is socially-acceptable behaviour. Is it any surprise some people choose to opt out of society altogether?

We’ve developed an allergy to any friction at all — in the classroom, when we order our takeout, how we interact with everything and everyone from employers to potential dates to transportation to our own homes. Give people an economic motivation to opt for the most frictionless expression of a product or an action or a person available, and life is suddenly easier.

Artificial intelligence, unlike an influencer, an OnlyFans girl, a TikTok star or Twitter personality, is infinitely customisable, reconfigurable, and available. Perhaps future generations will cut out the ‘human’ from human relationships altogether, and save their adoration for artificially perfect technological fictions. 

Join the discussion

  • Life is becoming difficult for cranks like me – I will not speak to a robot voice, so every time I try to conduct business on a phone I have to just keep punching random numbers till finally it gets tired of me and kicks me to a human – which can take a long time, and makes doing business by phone miserable. But then doing business on line can be hard as I do not have a cell phone so cannot take texts, and they very often want to send me one to verify as my IP is always different (VPN) and my computer is wiped clean every time I shut it.

    Us Luddites will end up losing against the machine just as the ones fighting the powered looms did…. They are out to force us to heel, and not much can be done.

    (I never have owned a cell phone, and will not – I use a computer generated home phone, which works exactly like an old telephone, runs off an old telephone handset, and cannot do texts)

  • Has something happened in recent times, such that the uncanny valley no longer exists? Are automatons such as the genuinely disturbing Johnny Cab from Total Recall now fine?

    The idea of AI friends or even romantic partners leaves me, like the author, utterly perplexed and creeped out. There have been a few pieces on a particular cohort of lonely males of late, but I don’t see this solving their problems.

  • Interesting. This article appears about the same time China announced it’s restricting the amount of time kids can play computer games each day, and it’s also banning ‘effeminate’ men from TV.
    I would say the CCP is pushing back against the possibility of raising a generation of young people, especially men, who prefer the internet to reality and who accept non-traditional behavior and roles for males.
    Meanwhile, in the west, men are demonized, we are encouraged to believe there is no such thing as gender, and people withdraw to the internet, video games, and, it would seem, increasingly life-like AI.
    I’m pretty sure I know who’s going to win this cultural war.

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