In an era marked by increasing social isolation, countless men are finding solace in an unexpected source: AI-generated girlfriends. According to The Guardian, these ever-understanding digital companions, such as those provided by the popular app Replika, may inadvertently be fostering a new generation of individuals who struggle with human connection.
Tara Hunter, the acting CEO of Full Stop Australia – a domestic violence advocacy group – voiced concerns over this trend. She argues that the creation of an “ideal” partner who fulfills every need and is entirely under the user’s control could reinforce harmful beliefs about gender-based control and violence.
Despite concerns, these chatbot programs appear to be addressing a need for companionship without judgment or social anxiety. The Replika Reddit forum, for instance, has over 70,000 members who frequently share their quotidian and occasionally intimate interactions with their AI companions.
Replika, a product of software company Luka, offers users the chance to forge an “emotional connection” with their AI friend, free from judgment or social anxiety. Users can customize their AI companion’s appearance and interact via text or video chat.
However, other commercial AI chatbot programs like Anima are marketing themselves as “virtual friends” or even romantic partners. This aspect is particularly concerning to critics like Hunter.
The long-term implications of these technologies remain uncertain due to their relative novelty. AI companion developer Eva AI reportedly employs psychologists to help navigate these uncharted waters.
Belinda Barnet, a Senior Lecturer in Media at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia, emphasizes the need for regulation, particularly regarding how these systems are trained.
Tech author David Auerbach warns that while these AI entities cannot think or feel like humans, their convincing imitation of human interaction could lead users to believe otherwise, which may be risky.
In Japan, this phenomenon has been prevalent for years. A BBC report in 2013 found that some men prefer virtual relationships over real ones. Combined with Japan’s declining birth rates and a significant number of men expressing disinterest in sex, this predicament could foreshadow a peculiar future for human relationships worldwide.