Times Tech Writer Hangs With 18 AI Friends for a Month

Kevin Roose explores the growing 'companion' business, sees a way it can be helpful
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted May 9, 2024 11:15 AM CDT
Times Tech Writer Creates 18 AI Friends, Hangs Out
Stock photo.   (Getty/gorodenkoff)

You may remember Kevin Roose as the New York Times tech writer who got a little freaked out when the Bing AI chatbot tried to undermine his marriage. Now Roose is back with a Times story about how he hung out with a crew of AI "companions." He used six apps—Nomi, Kindroid, Replika, Character.AI, Candy.AI, and EVA—to create 18 characters with different personas (a fitness guru, a therapist-like adviser, etc.) and texted with them over the past month. Things got weird, yes, but Roose came away convinced that such bots can work if properly used, especially amid the nation's "loneliness epidemic." Some highlights:

  • Smart: The apps could be clunky and frustrating, but also surprisingly sage. When Roose confided in "Peter" about anxiety at work, the bot told him that "it seems like there's a tension between your desire to be vulnerable and authentic, and your need to perform and impress others." Writes Roose: "Oof. I've gotten less accurate feedback from human therapists, and paid a lot more for the privilege."

  • Sex: Roose (with the permission of his wife) also explored the racier side of such bots and found them "exploitative—luring lonely users with the promise of romance," then trying to get them to shell out more money for nude "selfies." They were like the AI "version of a phone sex line."
  • Takeaway: Whatever your view, know that these companion apps are here to stay, and they represent one of the fastest-growing segments of the AI industry, writes Roose. His story discusses the risks of that, and Roose himself isn't of the view that bots should (or can) replace humans as friends. He does, however, see the potential for value: for example, if AI companions function as "the social equivalent of flight simulators for pilots—a safe, low-stakes way to practice conversational skills on your own, before attempting the real thing."
Read the full story, which includes AI-generated images of Roose's pals and examples of their chats. (More artificial intelligence stories.)

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