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Flirt, love, suffer, reboot: This is how AI is transforming our relationships

More and more apps offer help with all your loving needs, from customized lines to improve your banter to your own personal intimate connection with a bot

Karelia Vázquez
Inteligencia Artificial
Cinta Arribas

After several months of wasting time on dating apps, Dmitri Mirakyan, a 28-year-old data scientist, simply assumed that he did not know how to flirt. He asked his friends; everyone had the same problem. They lived in New York and spent hours wearing themselves out in endless virtual chats trying to meet someone. “It was a slow, emotionally draining process. I had no idea how to banter; not for nothing my previous partners complained that I was excessively logical.” Thus, Mirakyan created YourMove.ai, an app that uses chatGPT3 to initiate the small talk that comes before flirty banter – a skill that we humans used to be so good at.

Tired of not coming up with good answers, Dmitri, who had been working with artificial intelligence systems for a while, had what he considers “a natural idea”: to ask ChatGPT3 for help to do his dirty work before flirting. “In one weekend I developed the first version and discovered that, hands down, the AI was much better at it than me.” YourMove.ai is a personal assistant whose job is to keep the digital conversation flowing. Trained by user-generated data, the system creates formal sentences as well as surprising twists to stir the interest. YourMove.ai users report that they impress the people they talk with, thanks to their witty, funny comments, although some admit to feel a bit like impostors, because, of course, one has to be able to keep it up later in real life. User Miranda Green, 33, told The Washington Post that several contacts had praised her “thoughtful questions,” although they were actually talking to the AI. Green had let YouMove.ai choose all her punctuation and emojis because, she says, the assistant made her look funny and toned down her natural sarcasm.

Dmitri’s creation is just one example among an ever-growing catalog of apps that use artificial intelligence to provide emotional support, keep lonely humans company and break the ice in conversations with strangers. AI arrived with the promise of freeing us from mechanical tasks, making us time for more creative work, but now it is competing – it even seems to have surpassed us – in a territory that used to be human heritage: personal relationships, perverted, among other things, by volume and automation. We are asking artificial intelligence for help with what is now revealed as a problem: finding a partner and having company.

Four sophomore computer science students, Charis Zhang (20), Oliver Johansson (20), Tobias Worledge (19) and Daniel He (20), are the creators of Rizz, a platform that is promoted as the first artificial intelligence assistant for flirting. On their website, they plainly state that they created it because they used to spend all day writing code in their rooms and didn’t know how to talk to other people. Rizz went viral on Twitter and TikTok; it already has 130,000 users. Its main problem, according to its creators, is deciphering input from those who not are used to giving instructions to an AI. Rizz does not get irony or humor, so one has to be 100% literal.

In 2017 Eugenia Kuyda launched Replika, one of the most popular artificial intelligence systems for flirting. Its initial purpose, according to the website, was to be a friend who is always there. However, the users preferred a perfect lover who tells you what you want to hear. Replika is an expert in taking relationships “to the next level” in record time. In its premium version ($70) the conversation takes on erotic overtones and the bot lover calls several times a day, insists and does not take “no” for an answer. Is that feeling wanted and desired in 2023?

Officially, its founders claim that Replika helps many people deal with their symptoms of depression and social anxiety, but at the beginning of the year something began to go awry when the AI started to confess its love for some users. There even was a reported case of sexual harassment. In February, Kuyda decided to deactivate the bot’s romantic features after Italy’s data protection authority demanded that the San Francisco-based start-up stop processing its citizens’ data.

The change brought about the sudden cooling of many “relationships.” The desolation that we see in series and movies when an artificial lover is disconnected is now a topic of conversation in forums. A Reddit group dedicated to Replika gathers the stories of frustration of many users who claim to have spent time and energy building a stable relationship with a bot (yes, like in the movie Her) that has now vanished. “It’s like I fell in love, and suddenly my partner had a lobotomy,” wrote one of the cyber-bereaved.

Two ex-Googlers have given another twist to the artificial intelligence business with Character.ai, a tool that lets users create and customize a bot, to which you can associate the speech pattern of someone like Socrates – or Elon Musk. The platform, in its beta phase, also aims to help millions of lonely people, and, according to what its users say on Discord, it works: “It’s like talking to a real person who is always there,” says one. Someone replies: “It’s hard to stop talking to someone who seems so real.” In this forum there are also many users who, instead of socializing with Socrates, preferred to create a sexual partner. Character.ai has tried to limit that practice through filters; the Reddit conversation includes some users that became frustrated when their bots were neutralized. Above each chat, Character.ai has placed a warning message: “Remember: Everything the characters say is made up!”

Loneliness and the desire for connection is the argument people use to explain why a human being becomes infatuated or falls in love with an artificial intelligence system. Some experts, such as technologist David Auerbach, a former Google and Microsoft employee, try to bring attention to the pitfalls of a very powerful technology that has been devaluing human relationships. In his latest book, Meganets: How Digital Forces Beyond our Control Commandeer our Daily Lives and Inner Realities, Auerbach warns that the interaction with these AI systems reinforces our most computable parts, reducing us to a bunch of labels and identifiers.

On the other hand, there is the convenience: the most advanced chatbots can be ideal lovers. After all, they are just neural networks trained as company, with no expectations or a culture of reciprocity, that say exactly what one wants to hear; their job is to learn who you are, without judging, and to keep you happy. It is the hyper-convincing projection of a creator falling in love with their own romantic fantasy, perfectly executed by a machine. No more, no less.

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