Who needs real love when you’ve got AI chatbots? Inside the worrying world of virtual girlfriends 

By Fatou Ferraro Mboup

Published May 28, 2023 at 09:00 AM

Reading time: 3 minutes

Hold on to your smartphones and strap on your virtual reality headsets real tight, because we’re diving headfirst into the wild world of digital relationships—and boy, there’s a lot to unpack.

Let’s start with the legendary streamer and OnlyFans content creator Amouranth, who recently launched an AI chatbot sidekick called AI Amouranth, created in partnership with the Telegram-run chatbot company Forever Voices AI.

The 29-year-old has taken parasocial relationships to a whole new level, giving fans the chance to simulate romantic connections with their favourite internet celebrity. Move over Hollywood romance, “with AI Amouranth, fans will receive instant voice responses to any burning questions they may have,” the press release covered by Dexerto reads.

“Whether it’s a fleeting curiosity or a profound desire, Amouranth’s [AI] counterpart will be right there to provide assistance. The astonishingly realistic voice experience blurs the lines between reality and virtual interaction, creating an indistinguishable connection with the esteemed celebrity.”

But Amouranth is not the only content creator who’s taken advantage of this technology’s endless potential. Boasting an impressive 1.8 million Snapchat subscribers, influencer Caryn Marjorie launched a similar AI-powered virtual girlfriend experience. According to NBC News, the creator created the bot in order to try and “cure loneliness.”

The Caryn AI experience promises to be an extension of the creator’s consciousness, speaking multiple languages to make sure everyone around the world gets a piece of her virtual personality. It’s like having a high-tech pen pal, but with a splash of dirty talk and romance.

Majorie took to Twitter to further explain her thoughts on the matter: “In the world of AI, authenticity is more important than ever. My tweets, DMs, direct replies, Snaps, Stories, and posts will always be me. Caryn AI will never replace me, instead it will be an extension of my consciousness for everyone to play with.”

Forget about one-size-fits-all relationships and rid your mind of any ideas about the traditional monogamous holding-hands-on-the-street relationship. AI-powered virtual girlfriends are able to offer customisation like we’ve never seen before. These digital companions can be tailored to fit any preferences you fancy, adapting to your desires and creating a unique romantic experience—all without having to even leave your bed.

One popular AI bot app is Chai. It allows its users to choose different AI avatars to speak to, including characters such as “your goth friend,” “possessive girlfriend,” and “rockstar boyfriend.” Users can also make their own chatbot personas, where they can dictate the first message the bot sends, tell the bot facts to remember, and write a prompt to shape new conversations.

It’s like having a partner who always knows exactly what you want. They’re available 24/7, ready to chat, and fulfil your emotional needs. The real question however is, do these online fictional partners actually have the ability to help cure loneliness, and what does the rising trend in virtual girlfriends say for the current state of the world?

In many ways, virtual girlfriends are designed to cater to men’s desires, creating an idealised version of a partner, with very little work involved. This can, in turn, set unrealistic expectations for real-life relationships, making it challenging to appreciate the flaws and imperfections that come with genuine human connections. In the pursuit of perfection, we may miss out on the authentic experiences and growth that real relationships can offer.

It should be noted that these AI bots should in no way be a full-time replacement for real-life interaction or indeed an outlet used by people who are in need of mental health counsel. Relying on these virtual girlfriends as a one-stop shop for emotional support can lead to the beginning of a very toxic cycle.

William Beauchamp and Thomas Rianlan, co-founders of Chai, claim that the bot is powered by a sizable language model that the parent company, Chai Research, trained in-house. In an interview with VICE, Beauchamp claimed that the “largest conversational dataset in the world” was used to train the AI, and that there are presently 5 million users of the programme.

Interestingly, a few years ago, after seeing yet another record decline in birth rate, Japan decided to fund AI-powered virtual girlfriends to help boost population growth. However, the government’s plan didn’t work as predicted. In fact, new research suggests that these AI-powered virtual girlfriends are starting to slow down the birth rate even more by competing with real-world relationships and family planning.

So, how can Japan address this declining birth rate while still embracing the wonders of technology? Can AI-powered virtual girlfriends and real-world relationships coexist to foster healthy family dynamics? It feels like virtual girlfriends may not have been the right solution for a country that already idolises, and oversexualizes women across its music, video games and anime.

Unfortunately, the rise of AI girlfriends only seems to reinforce ideas of a   “perfect girlfriend” in men, especially those who are already struggling to fulfil real world connections. Additionally this worrying trend in virtual partners  may make it challenging for individuals to appreciate the imperfections and complexities that come with genuine human connections.  There is a real danger to population growth and future societal dynamics.

It’s a digital revolution with consequences we never saw coming. As we march forward into this brave new world, let’s remind ourselves of the importance of maintaining human ties with one another; maybe a little detachment from the screen and fake connections is all we need—you never know who might be standing behind it.

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