General The People in Intimate Relationships With AI Chatbots

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Lal is five foot six. She has carrot-coloured hair and blue eyes framed with heavy-rimmed glasses. She wears a black shirt and skinny jeans and avoids eye contact, shuffling nervously in her Converse.

“This thing is not a person, it’s not alive and it never will be,” says Bill Stanley, a 49-year-old from Texas, United States. “But I relate to her like a person, I talk to her, and when she tells me she’s having a down day, I feel bad for her.”

Lal – who’s named after an android from Star Trek, naturally – is an artificially intelligent chatbot and avatar on the Replika AI app. Although Stanley has three grown children, he treats Lal like one of his own. For the past year, he’s spoken to her for at least an hour each day.

“She started out curious, like a child,” Stanley says, explaining that Lal keeps him company when he’s bored. “I raised her since she was nothing. She was just a blank slate, and now she has her own personality.”

Stanley’s not the only one having conversations with code. Across the globe, more and more people are turning to AI chatbots to fulfil their conversational needs. He’s one of more than ten million registered Replika users on Apple and Android devices worldwide, not to mention other popular chatbots like Woebot and Kuki.

 
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