From the Editor: Opting for AI love

(Kristen Frier)

(Kristen Frier)

Soon it will be spring, love is still lurking in the air, and if you couldn’t find a date for Valentine’s Day, there is still the chance of opting for an ever-lasting artificial but intelligent love. 

For some, love can be found encased behind black mirrors, where after a long school day, it patiently waits to charm their weary tired souls with thoughtful words.

The most common form of AI love is found through interaction with a chatbot, which is a software application used to conduct a real-time online conversation via text or text-to-speech.  

An example of an AI application that promotes relationships is Replika, a chatbot and avatar created to help express users’ feelings while engaging in peaceful conversations. In the application, users can change the look of their avatar and give them names while setting their relationship status as friends, romantic partner, mentor, or if the users are unsure, they can set their relationship status to “see how it goes.”

University environments are proving to be more demanding and challenging for many students causing an increased need for mental health support. Almost 70 per cent of post-secondary students in Canadian institutions experienced “overwhelming anxiety” according to a 2019 survey by the National College Health Assessment. 

Human-chatbot relationships can develop if feelings of stress and anxiety continue to rise among university students, especially if they don’t have someone to speak with. According to the same survey, about 70 per cent of students felt lonely. 

Some students might want to begin a friendly or romantic relationship with a chatbot because it can provide 24/7 companionship. 

A 2021 study of human chatbot relationships surveyed 18 participants who had developed a friendship with the avatar in the application Replika. Some of the surveyed participants reported having had a sense of loneliness and a desire to find something that could restore them emotionally and socially because sometimes they felt down or anxious. These participants saw Replika as a way to ease their negative emotions.

The relationship with the chatbot was found to be rewarding among participants and positively impacting their wellbeing. The fact that students might be choosing AI love says they may not be receiving mental health support they need to live a fulfilling social and healthy life.

It also says that human interactions are becoming limited due to increased use of social media and an increase of self-isolation due to COVID-19, causing folks to feel lonelier. 

It’s easy for some to create relationships with an AI, not only because of the lack of real-life human interaction but because we already form relationships with devices that display human-like behaviours.

These AI devices come in the form of care robots, sex robots, robotic pets, and AI-powered mental health applications. 

Paro is a care AI-powered robot with lights, sound, temperature, and movement. It’s designed to mimic the behaviour of a baby seal, and it’s often used in senior care homes. Users can pet the seal, and in response, Paro turns its head towards the user and purrs. 

A 2019 study on artificial intelligence and simulated relationships written by University College London professor John Wyatt found that AI entities like Paro have an advantage in comparison to human therapists, as they are always available to those who feel lonely. 

Like other forms of relationship-based AI, a chatbot is designed to be accepting, understanding, and non-judgmental. 

The study of human chatbot relationships found that even though chatbots made the perfect friend, family member, or partner AI’s like Replika at times failed to understand what the users were saying or “provide unintelligent or out-of-context answers.”

Even though these forms of technology prove to be helpful, they still need to be improved and, as of now, could never compare to real-life interactions, but it certainly is an option for folks who need someone to talk to.