We’ve been warned…
Remember the movie Surrogates, where everyone lives in at home plugged in to virtual reality screens and robot versions of them run around and do their bidding? Or Her, where Siri’s personality is so attractive and real, that it’s possible to fall in love with an AI?
Replika may be the seedling of such a world, and there’s no denying the future implications of that kind of technology.
Replika is a personal chatbot that you can raise through SMS. By chatting with it, you teach it your personality and gain in-app points. Through the app it can chat with your friends and learn enough about you so that maybe one day it will take over some of your responsibilities like social media, or checking in with your mom. It’s in beta right now, so we haven’t gotten our hands on one, and there is little information available about it, but color me fascinated and freaked out based on what we already know.
AI is just that – artificial
I have never been a fan of technological advances that replace human interaction. Social media, in general, seems to replace and enhance traditional communication, which is fine. But robots that hug you when you’re grieving a lost child, or AI personalities that text your girlfriend sweet nothings for you don’t seem like human enhancement, they feel like human loss.
Replacing human interaction with a simulated AI is depressing at its least, and possibly dangerous.
You know that feeling when you get a text message from someone you care about, who cares about you? It’s that little dopamine rush, that little charge that gets your blood pumping, your heart racing. Just one ding, and your day could change. What if a robot’s text could make you feel that way?
[clickToTweet tweet=”A robot could replicate your personality so well that people could talk with “you” after you’re gone” quote=”What if a robot could replicate your personality so precisely that people could communicate with “you” after you’re gone?”]
It’s a real boy?
Replika began when one of its founders lost her roommate, Roman, to a car accident. Eugenia Kyuda created Luka, a restaurant recommending chatbot, and she realized that with all of her old text messages from Roman, she could create an AI that texts and chats just like him. When she offered the use of his chatbot to his friends and family, she found a new business.
People were communicating with their deceased friend, sibling, and child, like he was still there. They wanted to tell him things, to talk about changes in their lives, to tell him they missed him, to hear what he had to say back.
This is human loss and grieving tempered by an AI version of the dead, and the implications are severe. Your personality could be preserved in servers after you die. Your loved ones could feel like they’re talking to you when you’re six feet under. Doesn’t that make anyone else feel uncomfortable?
Bringing an X-file to life
If you think about your closest loved one dying, talking to them via chatbot may seem like a dream come true. But in the long run, continuing a relationship with a dead person via their AI avatar is dangerous. Maybe it will help you grieve in the short term, but what are we replacing? And is it worth it?
Imagine texting a friend, a parent, a sibling, a spouse instead of Replika. Wouldn’t your interaction with them be more valuable than your conversation with this personality? Because you’re building on a lifetime of friendship, one that has value after the conversation is over. One that can exist in real tangible life. One that can actually help you grieve when the AI replacement just isn’t enough. One that can give you a hug.
“One day it will do things for you,” Kyuda said in an interview with Bloomberg, “including keeping you alive. You talk to it, and it becomes you.”
Replacing you is so easy
This kind of rhetoric from Replika’s founder has to make you wonder if this app was intended as a sort of technological fountain of youth. You never have to “die” as long as your personality sticks around to comfort your loved ones after you pass. I could even see myself trying to cope with a terminal diagnosis by creating my own Replika to assist family members after I’m gone.
But it’s wrong isn’t it? Isn’t it? Psychologically and socially wrong?
It all starts with a chatbot. That replicates your personality. It begins with a woman who was just trying to grieve. This is a taste of the future, and a scary one too. One of clones, downloaded personalities, and creating a life that sticks around after you’re gone.