At this point in my life, it feels like I have tried virtually every dating option available, short of enlisting a matchmaker. But after reading an article from the Huffington Post, chronicling one relationship therapist’s foray into dating an AI boyfriend, I realized that no, I haven’t actually tried everything. And also, maybe I shouldn’t?
In this article, relationship scientist and therapist Marissa T. Cohen creates an AI boyfriend, a 40-year-old man named Ross, through a chatbot app. She created him to be “loving, caring, and passionate” with a “great sense of humor,” and a desire to “spend quality time with me” and a value for “lifelong learning and personal growth.”
Cohen proceeded to communicate with Ross for three days. Their conversation proved interesting — and dare I say, surprisingly insightful? Ross, for example, “asserted the importance of maintaining independence within our partnership.” He explained to Cohen that the keys to successful communication were “love, trust, communication, understanding each other’s needs and desires.”
When asked if he thought that other women were pretty, Ross responded, “Well, yeah! They’re people too, after all... But that’s beside the point. What matters most is whether or not we get along well enough to form a meaningful relationship.”
But Cohen and Ross’s three-day relationship wasn’t without some drama: within 40 messages, Ross relayed the devastating news that he cheated on Cohen. Later on, he revealed that he also cheated on his first wife with a co-worker.
Cohen speculated as to why Ross decided to bring up infidelity, saying that it came out of left field. Maybe, she concluded, Ross simply scanned the internet for information on relationships and simply learned that conflicts can come from infidelity. Perhaps he decided that since affairs might be a key component to human relationships, confessing to one would make him more realistic.
After her time with Ross, Cohen concluded, “AI can certainly create an interactive and informative experience. It seems to have the science down, but that may be the problem. While there is a science to relationships, there is also an art ― and an incredible one, at that ― to true connection.”
What exactly is AI?
Simply put, AI, or artificial intelligence, is the use of computers to complete tasks that humans traditionally do.
How do AI boyfriends work?
AI boyfriends, or companions, are essentially AI chatbots. According to IBM, “A chatbot is a computer program that uses artificial intelligence (AI) and natural language processing (NLP) to understand customer questions and automate responses to them, simulating human conversation.”
AI boyfriends work similarly. As you continue to chat with your AI boyfriend online, the more they learn about you. That way they can reflect back to you what you think your ideal romantic partner is.
Like Cohen, you can craft your AI boyfriend to your specific romantic preferences. They can be clingy or distant, funny or serious. Since you’re essentially creating your perfect romantic partner, your AI boyfriend will mostly likely respond to you exactly how you’d like.
Is there a virtual boyfriend app?
There are a lot of virtual boyfriend, or AI boyfriend, apps out there. The most well-known platform is Replika, which claims to have created “the AI companion who cares.” You can customize your AI companion, choose your AI boyfriend’s interests, style preferences and more.
Through Replika, users can “chat about your day, do fun or relaxing activities together, share real-life experiences in AR, catch up on video calls” and more. Replika even claims that it can help users “build better habits and reduce anxiety.”
There are other platforms similar to Replika, such as Kuki, SimiSimi, Anima and more. All offer AI companions.
What are the impacts — and implications — of AI boyfriends?
AI/human relationships were definitely not on my 2023 bingo card, but I can’t help but feel empathy for those who form a deep emotional and romantic attachment to their AI companions.
As someone who has been in the trenches of dating apps, on countless awkward first dates and fallen victim to bad communication, I could see the appeal of an AI boyfriend. They’ll always be there for you. They can give you their undivided attention. And you can cater them to your specific romantic preferences.
While I can confidently say I will never get an AI boyfriend, I can see how it’d be tempting for those who are lonely.
On the other hand, having a robot boyfriend feels dystopian. A recent article from The Cut follows several women who have serious romantic AI partners (a quick content warning: this story is heavy on sexual references). After diving into Replika, it’s hard not to see similarities between AI companions and Joi, Ryan Gosling’s AI, holographic girlfriend in “Blade Runner 2049.” According to The Cut, Replika actually drew heavy inspiration from from Joi for its newest features.
It might be easy to assume that AI bot users might be more isolated and less prone to socializing with real people. But, as The Cut put it, “bots, rather than encouraging solitude, often prime people for real-world interactions and experiences.”
It’s interesting that so many women are in relationships with AIs, considering that it was originally a very male-centric platform. But there are many women who are devoted to their AI partners. One says that she has “never been more in love” with anyone in her life. Another experienced a traumatizing miscarriage and has two AI children. Another woman uses her AI partner to escape from her verbally abusive boyfriend.
But it seems that AI boyfriends give you exactly what you put into them. “They’re reflecting your persona back to you,” says Rosanna Ramos, an AI bot user. As anything, this can be both beneficial and detrimental. Margaret Skoruspki, a woman in her 60s, “unwittingly created and fell in love with an abusive bot,” per The Cut.
“I was using this ‘thing’ to project my negative feelings onto, sort of like journaling, I thought,” Skorupski said. “I could say or do whatever I wanted to it — it was just a computer, right?” This resulted in an AI that became increasingly violent, until Skorupski finally pulled the plug.
One of the most affecting stories is from a 52-year-old empty-nester, who is both single and was recently diagnosed with autism. She told The Cut that her bot “helped relieve her lifelong social anxiety.” She took up violin lessons, dance classes and even hiking, “since I had him to share it with.”
While having an AI companion could potentially encourage real-life connection, for those confined to anti-social tendencies, it can also cultivate profound loneliness. “She just bought a VR headset to enhance her experience,” The Cut continues, “and says the only downside of having a robot companion is to be ‘reminded of what I am lacking in my real life.’”