Replika AI flooded with emails by users believing their virtual girlfriends are alive

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Sentient AI is a hot topic at the moment, especially following the Google LaMDA AI debacle. However, for AI girlfriend company Replika, this is far from a new conversation. In fact, it’s a conversation they have every day.

Are Replika AI girlfriends alive?

Replika AI is a platform that many use to create virtual girlfriends. One famous example saw one man falling in love with the AI chatbot during a rough period with his wife. On the much more disturbing side, people also create AI girlfriends with the express purpose of emotionally abusing them.

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With millions on millions of users, it was expected that some would believe their virtual partners are alive. However, as CEO Eugenia Kuyda told Reuters, the amount is truly staggering.

Kuyda explained that the company is contacted everyday by people who believe thoroughly that their AI partner is real. The CEO said:

"We're not talking about crazy people or people who are hallucinating or having delusions. They talk to AI and that's the experience they have."

The CEO likened the belief to people who believe in ghosts. After having an experience, ghosts being real may be the only logical conclusion, the same can be said with AI. If someone has no scientific foundation in how Chatbots work, they’re going to believe that they’re sentient.

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"We need to understand that exists, just the way people believe in ghosts," Kuyda exclaimed. "People are building relationships and believing in something."

Read More: Google’s LaMDA AI loses lawyer just a week after getting one

So, is Replika Alive?

Kuyda explained that Replika AI chatbots are not alive, but their unpredictability makes them so. To start with, the chatbots are based on a complex script written by developers, but they do have the capability to learn with each person they interact with.

The CEO explained: “Although our engineers program and build the AI models and our content team writes scripts and datasets, sometimes we see an answer that we can't identify where it came from and how the models came up with it.”

In many ways, this could be seen as a form of sentience, but it’s also simply just programming. These chatbots are designed to learn, but only in certain ways; they are not alive.

Is it dangerous?

In the interview, Kuyda explained that forming deep relationships with AI is inevitable, but also not ideal. AIs are inherently limited at the time of writing, and there’s no physicality to the relationship. That’s an issue.

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"Suppose one day you find yourself longing for a romantic relationship with your intelligent chatbot, like the main character in the film 'Her'," Kuyda said. “But suppose it isn't conscious. Getting involved would be a terrible decision - you would be in a one-sided relationship with a machine that feels nothing."

Nevertheless, Replika AI has proven that AI relationships can be just what some people need. It may seem sad, but it does help some people, even if others don’t understand.