Welcome to the lucrative world of AI girlfriends
An online influencer is capitalising on modern loneliness
In Spike Jonze’s 2013 film Her, a lonely, recently-divorced ghostwriter falls in love with his artificially intelligent virtual assistant Samantha. In another twist of life imitating art, you now can too — except she’s called CarynAI.
CarynAI is a cyber clone of Caryn Marjorie, a 23-year-old content creator with over 1.8 million subscribers on Snapchat. To create this e-escort, designers trawled through thousands of hours of now-deleted YouTube content to create a parallel personality to whom you can chat for $1 a minute via text message or voice notes. Marjorie has made $70,000 in her first week, and estimates she could make $5 million a month if 20,000 of her followers get a membership.
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Sexting chatbots are nothing new: apps like Replika (which has over 10 million users) have been offering people the chance to role-play relationships with animated avatars for several years. However, Caryn’s digital doppelganger is different because users are made to feel as if they are talking to her personally, giving an imitation of intimacy and “superhuman” love: for a premium, you can have the “real deal”.
There are obvious moral, social and psychological implications to living in a Black Mirror-Britain where dates are fully downloadable. Think increased feelings of loneliness and atomisation, birth rates falling off a cliff, and the ethical minefield of perverting your online footprint (should you outsource yourself to ChatGPT before someone else does it for you?)
At the moment, this model works for someone like Caryn Marjorie because she is a conventionally attractive woman with an already-established online audience. Yet, in the future, just about anyone will be able to create and scale their own coquettish character as a side hustle. This could serve as serious competition for OnlyFans content creators: if you can’t beat the AI girlfriends, join them.
Yet what is most concerning is that as we humanise AI, we inevitably end up dehumanising women. Porn has desensitised people to real sex: you only need to look at the TikTok trend of “vanilla-shaming” to see how warped sexual expectations have become. Similarly, real relationships may never be able to compete with the idealised facsimiles already being used and, in some cases, abused.
Replika users on Reddit already boast about roleplaying verbal, emotional and physical abuse with their chatbots in a showdown that would make Andrew Tate proud. Yet allowing users to play out their darkest impulses on unfeeling digital entities isn’t cathartic: it simply reinforces these awful behaviours and, like porn, builds unhealthy habits and relationships. It’s like scratching an itch, bringing temporary relief or satisfaction without making the temptation go away.
Marjorie contends that the purpose of creating CarynAI was for it to be a “tool to cure loneliness”, and others have celebrated the potential for AI applications to simulate companionship. For example, the mobile game Mr Love: Queen’s Choice became hugely popular in China as it allowed users to text, chat and call the male love interests, whilst ElliQ has been marketed as a virtual assistant for the elderly, offering encouragement, health reminders, games and a friendly voice.
There could be potential here, but perhaps “curing loneliness” is a PR-friendly gloss for something much darker. Either way, this is something we must confront now: as Ciaran O’Driscoll says in his poem “Please Hold”, “This is the future… We are already there.”
This is so depressing. I gather from my young teen clients (I’m a clinical psychologist) that ‘vanilla shaming’ is part of normal sex-related conversations and ‘banter’ in our high schools. Kids who are just learning about sex genuinely believe that being hit, spat at, strangled and verbally abused is a normal part of sexual relationships and that to state you wouldn’t be up for this stuff justifies ridicule. I see an obvious link with the epidemic of gender dysphoria through my work- young girls telling me that (funnily enough) they don’t fancy womanhood if this is what it entails…
There is a global crisis of sexual dysfunction and chronic loneliness just beginning. What are we going to do about it? We are totally failing the young…
That’s horrible !!! Question, would you say that attitude is specific to a sub-segment of society somehow?
When I was a kid I, and all my friends, had something called “parents”. I’d like to say maybe an AI generated “parent” would be better than no parent but, I’m not sure what these LLM’s that drive the GPTs would actually conjure up.
Makes me want to go change the cat litter.
Is it just me or does it feel like tech and science are trying to eliminate the need for biological women altogether?
You got this freaky stuff.
You got scientists now having created both artificial wombs that work (they have used them on sheep already). Who needs a biological woman to carry a child? They have developed techniques to convert one zygot into another, sperm to egg, egg to sperm. Who needs a woman’s egg?
You got corporations that are pushing and paying women to freeze their eggs to keep them working. Have babies later if you really feel you have to. Right?
One Silicon Valley firm trial balooned the idea of paying women in the future to use artificial wombs as a benefit. Keep em working and pitch it as an efficient way to avoid the burden and risk of childbirth and no stretch marks as a bonus. No need to be out of the office. No need for prenatal visits. No need for extended maternal leave.
Never mind the whole trans insanity preventing even an understanding of what a woman is. Its not biological, its a mindset after all and you can change your mindset. Just erase the existence of biological women.
All good for business. It keeps women in the workforce which keep the labor pool larger and labor costs down.
Think I am joking? I read an article on CNBC the other day about exactly this. Corporations are worried about labor costs and although they think that the labor market will ease later this year, they see another wave of labor shortages coming and one solution is to increase the labor participation of women, particularly women of child bearing age. Saw a similar article on Bloomberg.
“Is it just me or does it feel like tech and science are trying to eliminate the need for biological women altogether?”
No, Daniel, it’s not just you. In some ways, women are threatened, as you say, by the development of new technologies. But so are men, not only because of new technologies but also because of other cultural patterns both new and old.
At one time, after all, many people worried that machines (automation) would replace the humans who worked in factories. And most of these technologically redundant workers–almost all of them before World War II–were men.
A closely related matter, almost always ignored, is the longstanding belief, fostered now by pop-evolutionary psychology, that men not only are potentially replaceable by machines but actually are nothing of more value than machines: weapons to be used and discarded in combat.
In our time, we should worry about additional cultural forces, both technological and sociological, that would eliminate the need for men. In connection with reproduction, for instance, we have sperm banks for women who (apart from anything else) either don’t have or don’t want to have even the most fleeting interactions with men in order to become mothers. At the same time, many people (both women and men) have by now come to believe that fathers have no distinctive and necessary function in family life, which leaves the impression that fathers–which is to say, men– are either luxuries or assistant mothers at best and “deadbeat dads” or potential molesters at worst. The stats on fatherless children are not encouraging.
It’s true that many people either can’t or won’t define “woman.” But they also either can’t or won’t define “man.” This goes back long before the rise of transgenderism. Even sixty years ago, traditional definitions of manhood were under attack and new ones were not forthcoming. Men and women, it then seemed obvious in some circles, were interchangeable except for gestation. As a result, it quickly became clear that men had no way of establishing a healthy identity at all, which relies on the ability to make at least one contribution to family or society that is distinctive, necessary and publicly valued.
My point here is not to trivialize your idea that “tech and science” pose problems for women but to suggest that they (and other cultural patterns) pose analogous, and dangerous, problems for men.
Sorry but the process of pregnancy will never be achieved in a male body that first 3 months is a cascade of amazing communication between mother and developing embryo. These so-called “artificial wombs” are really just a way of keeping very premature infants alive while not letting the lungs breathe air which damages them at 7 months. Early pregnancy is where all the systems are formed that’s why eg rubella at this stage is so damaging. After that the foetus is just getting bigger…..
One step closer to Blade Runner 2049, which I have yet to not fall asleep partway through.
Searching for benefits in a field of unintended consequences.
Funny how such a central topic is put to the sides, even here.
There are many profoundly lonely people out there – especially men. If this makes them feel less lonely then maybe it is not so bad.
Disagree. Treat the cause (hard) not symptom (all too easy, especially with this delusory tech). If you only treat the symptom, you aggravate the cause.
Loneliness is a lack of human contact. Curing a lack of human contact with a tool that encourages even less human contact isn’t a solution.
That’s just dumb! You *should* feel negative emotions. They motivate you to change some aspect of your life. Humans should be happy all the time? Maybe for a few people that would be healthy, but not most people as their daily circumstances change.
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