June 17, 2020

Quarantine got you talking to yourself? Try a little botty language

Replika is a smartphone app designed to deliver AI-generated conversation. In April, users flocked to it.

Photo: Replika

You watch what you say about “Her.”

OK, maybe she’s no Scarlett Johansson, but AI chatbots have become increasingly popular among people feeling socially isolated during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Don’t you want somebotty to love?

Replika is a smartphone app designed to deliver AI-generated conversation. In April, half a million people downloaded it, and traffic to the app almost doubled. 

Most people name their Replikas, and some come to view them as friends or romantic partners.

Robot love works in mysterious ways

Chatbot technology is far from perfect, and Replika’s not always the smoothest talker. It tends to repeat itself, and sometimes it says something totally bonkers. Replika relies on users to report anything offensive as it continues to tweak its product.

It’s not the only fish in the high-tech sea: The Botnet app mimics a social network interface and employs thousands of bots to lavish praise on a user’s every utterance. And the text-message-based Lena was developed to ease the feeling of isolation many seniors experience.

Some researchers say turning to technology for personal connections could be unhealthy because dialogue with digital companions doesn’t develop the same “emotional muscles” as real conversations. 

The good news: Some users have said that Replika starts to feel more human the more they’ve used it. 

Maybe someday we’ll all trade bon mots with robots.

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