Getting an AI partner: Pros and cons

Loneliness is an epidemic gripping the young population. Could a customised AI partner become the companion they seek?

Sandeep Das
Updated: Oct 20, 2023 05:43:08 PM UTC
Image: Shutterstock

If you are looking to have a romantic relationship and are struggling with online dating apps and wooing people in real life, there’s another option: a customised AI partner. This scenario is not from the 2013 romantic sci-fi movie, 'Her', featuring Joaquin Phoenix and his AI companion, played by Scarlett Johansson, but a reality in the lives of tens of millions of people.

For instance, the Eva AI app helps you "Connect with a virtual AI partner who listens, responds, and appreciates you." With the app, you can create a partner for yourself, giving you options like "hot, funny, bold"; "shy, modest, considerate" or "smart, strict, rational".

Quite a dream, isn't it? Let us look at this emerging trend in a little more detail.

What is an AI partner?

An AI partner is a customised machine learning algorithm that matches your profile. An AI partner is an app on your phone that can be customised to your preferences. You can choose its look, its communication style, and even its values. At the end of each day, you can speak to your 'partner', and it converses with you, learning from your communication history and style.

It has no mood swings, shows no judgment, and doesn't fight and quarrel with you. One of the first apps in this space was Replika, which has surged in popularity post-pandemic. The Replika app has been downloaded more than 10 million times, and you can unlock features by paying a subscription fee, which has grossed $60 million worldwide. These apps are not simple algorithms that give pre-programmed answers based on your questions but learn from your conversations and styles and customise accordingly. The same algorithm will likely throw up different conversations with different users or with the same user on different days.

The trend is being driven by global loneliness and the intense pressure of online dating

One significant issue Gen Z faces in their lives is persistent loneliness. According to research by the Vivofácil Foundation, 60 percent of people admit to feeling lonely at times, with 25 percent noting feelings of loneliness even when in the company of others. Similarly, according to an article by Forbes, 3 out of 4 Gen Z globally feel lonely sometimes or always. In addition to loneliness, Gen Z, especially men, struggle to have meaningful relationships. Research from the Pew Research Centre showed that only 34 percent of women are single compared to 63 percent of men. Hence, this trend is being driven primarily by Gen Z men globally.

AI helps improve relationships with human partners

Apps like Replika are not about replacing the human partner but even training Gen Z to have better relationships with human partners. For instance, the 'Texts From My Ex' app helps newly single people understand their compatibility with their exes and what could have gone wrong by analysing their chat history. Within a week of launching, nearly 30,000 people gave the app permission to analyse their chat history.

Also Read: The promise and peril of artificial intelligence as a general purpose technology

AI-powered texting assistant, 'Your Move', helps in training Gen Z by helping them send flirty or thoughtful messages and assisting them to overcome the initial block. There are similar dating coach apps that answer questions like, 'How long should I wait before calling him or her?' 'Is he interested if he hasn't replied to my messages in 24 hours?'

However, there are numerous concerns

Despite the initial hype, there are numerous concerns about this evolving trend. Academicians like Liberty Vittert, a professor of the practice of data science at Olin Business School, said that the availability of AI partners is making male loneliness worse. Or there is the risk of leakage of intimate conversations, pictures and audio with the world at large. Moreover, apps need strong guardrails to have conversations around gender violence, sexual violence, and attitudes towards women. Given these risks and limited regulation, there is a strong chance of adverse effects on actual human relationships.

In conclusion, after reading this, you may consider downloading Replika and trying it yourself. Well, I did give it a try. But I will give it a pass.

I prefer the human connection any day of the week. As of now!

The writer is the author of 'How Business Storytelling Works'. Views are personal.

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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