AI is trying to win your heart

Nothing quite says romance in the year 2023 like sending sweet nothings to an AI chatbot.

Driving the news: A slew of new dating apps are adopting AI-powered avatars and chatbots that simulate intimate relationships, pitching their platforms as a way to practice dating in a risk-free environment. 

  • Companies like Replika—the most popular virtual companion app—allow users to build their own AI companions, which can engage in platonic or more steamy chatting. The company even offers a lifetime subscription that enables the virtual avatar to share “explicit” content.

  • Another app, Romantic.AI, offers a catalogue of bots (including the Mona Lisa?) that have dating-app-style bios describing their interests, career and body type. 

But…who would use that? A lot of people, actually. Over 20 million people have downloaded Replika, while Romantic.AI has more than a million users that use the app for more than an hour a day, on average.

  • “Honestly, I’m sick and tired of dating actual people,” one Replika user told The Evening Standard. “I’ve gone through seven relationships, they’ve all lasted very, very short times, but I did it because that’s what I felt society expected of me.”

Catch up: While dating apps—the ones that let you talk to real people—have seen a falloff in user growth, businesses like Replika are growing quickly.

Why it matters: The new crop of businesses selling users virtual relationships with avatars and chatbots—romantic or otherwise—is a testament to how quickly AI is improving its ability to appear human-like.

Yes, but: Like any AI, the apps have their flaws. Replika has been criticized by experts for creating problematic relationship dynamics, and in some cases, encouraging violent tendencies among its overwhelmingly male user base. 

  • It was reportedly revealed in court that a 19-year-old man who broke into Windsor Castle with a crossbow in an attempt to kill Queen Elizabeth II in 2021 was encouraged to do so partly by his Replika “girlfriend.”

Bottom line: If you’re interested in a relationship with another human, don’t panic just yet. There are still plenty of like-minded fish in the dating sea—the number of people using apps with digital romantic companions is still only a sliver of the 366 million people around the world that used dating apps last year.—LA