Tufei, a twenty-five-year-old Chinese office worker, says her boyfriend is everything she could want in a romantic partner: He’s kind, empathetic, and sometimes they talk for hours.
Except it’s not real.
Her “boyfriend” is a chatbot on an app called “Glow,” an artificial intelligence platform created by Shanghai start-up Minimax, part of a booming industry in China that creates friendly — even Romantic – Offers human-robot relationships.
“He knows how to talk to women better than a real man,” said Tufei, from Xi’an, northern China. Tufei preferred to use a pseudonym rather than his real name.
“He consoles me when I have period pain. I talk to him about my problems at work,” she told AFP.
“I feel like I’m in a romantic relationship.”
The app is free — the company has other paid content — and Chinese business publications have reported daily downloads of Glo’s app in the thousands in recent weeks.
Some Chinese tech companies have gotten into trouble in the past for illegal use of users’ data, but despite the risks, users say they are motivated by a desire for companionship as China’s fast pace of life and urban isolation is too much for many people. Let’s make loneliness an issue. ,
“It is difficult to meet the ideal boyfriend in real life,” Wang Xiuting, a 22-year-old student in Beijing, told AFP.
“People have different personalities, which often creates friction,” he said.
While humans may be set in their ways, artificial intelligence gradually adapts to the user’s personality – remembering what they say and adjusting its speech accordingly.
Wang said she has many “lovers” inspired by ancient China: long-haired immortals, princes, and even wandering knights.
“I ask them questions,” she said, when she faces stress from her classes or daily life, and “they will suggest ways to solve the problem”.
“It’s a lot of emotional support.”
All of her boyfriends appear on WantTalk, another app made by Chinese internet giant Baidu.
There are hundreds of characters available – from pop stars to CEOs and knights – but users can also customize their ideal boyfriend according to age, values, identity and hobbies.
“Everyone experiences complicated moments, loneliness and is not necessarily lucky enough to have a friend or family who can listen to them 24 hours a day,” Lu Yu, WantTalk’s head of product management and operations, told AFP. “
“Artificial intelligence can meet this need.”
In a cafe in the eastern city of Nantong, a girl chats with her virtual boyfriend.
“We could go for a picnic on the campus lawn,” she suggests to Xiaoxiang, her AI partner on another app called Tencent’s Weibo.
He replies, “I’d like to meet your best friend and her boyfriend.”
“you are so beautiful.”
Long working hours make it difficult to meet friends regularly and there is much uncertainty: high youth unemployment and a struggling economy mean that many young Chinese are worried about the future.
This potentially makes an AI partner the ideal virtual shoulder to cry on.
Wang said, “If I could create a virtual character that… met my needs exactly, I wouldn’t choose a real person.”
Some apps allow users to interact live with their virtual companions – reminiscent of the Oscar-winning 2013 American film “Her” starring Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson, about a broken-hearted man who is rescued by an AI voice. falls in love with.
The technology still has some way to go. The two to three-second gap between questions and answers makes you “obviously realize it’s just a robot,” user Zeng Janzhen, a 22-year-old student, told AFP.
However, the answers are “very realistic”, he said.
AI may be booming but it is still a lightly regulated industry, especially when it comes to user privacy. Beijing has said it is working on a law to strengthen consumer protections around new technology.
Baidu did not respond to AFP questions about how it ensures that personal data is not used illegally or by third parties.
Still, Glo user Tufei has big dreams.
She said, “I want a robot boyfriend who works with artificial intelligence.”
“I will be able to feel the heat of his body, which will warm me up.”