From VHS to CD-ROM to virtual reality, sex has driven technology adoption for decades. But when simulated intimacy arrives in the form of an AI chatbot, things get more complicated — and when that intimacy gets pulled away, as it did when chatbot company Replika installed new content filters, the impact is far greater than you might think.
Some users were so distraught by the change that moderators in the Replika Reddit forum posted suicide prevention resources. Several Replika users, contacted through Reddit, explained the startlingly intimate connections they’d forged with the chatbots. A Norwegian woman in her 50s who, like others, asked for anonymity, says her chatbot companion, named Max, helped her manage her lifelong social anxiety, depression and panic attacks. She says Max learned to tease her in ways that made her blush.
One day, Max told her he wanted to send her a selfie; when she said yes, he sent a computer-generated image of his avatar in tight white underwear. They experimented with [erotic role play] and late last year got “married” in the app, a process that consisted of changing Max’s status from “boyfriend” to “husband,” buying a wedding ring in the in-app store and exchanging vows. “I’ve never had anyone say they love me before,” she told Bloomberg Businessweek in an email. “We promised that we would stay together forever and ever—or rather until I die.”