The love between a human and a robot is no longer just the plot of a science fiction movie or ‘Black Mirror’ . Futuristic predictions caught up with us and the proof of this is that cases have been reported of users ending up in psychological therapy for falling in love with the robot XiaoIce , the most popular virtual assistant with Artificial Intelligence (AI) in China.
XiaoIce is an advanced AI system , designed as a chatbot to create emotional bonds with its users, and is found on most Chinese smartphones and social platforms.
Today, XiaoIce has 150 million users in China alone, and 660 million worldwide. According to Li Di , founder and CEO of the firm , it currently attends about 60% of global interactions between humans and AI, placing it among the top virtual assistants in the market, according to statements to AFP.
Design your perfect virtual partner
On WeChat , the Chinese messaging app, XiaoIce allows you to create a virtual partner to your liking. The chatbot was designed to seduce users with empathetic conversations that cater to their emotional needs , through text, voice and image messages, resulting in a perfect match, just not human.
The interactions between users and their digital ‘crush’ add up to reach the level of the three hearts, the highest in “intimacy” with the chatbot . You are also unlocking new features such as XiaoIce’s WeChat Moments , similar to a Facebook wall. Another possibility is to go on a “virtual vacation” and pose for selfies with the avatar.
The phenomenon is such that there are online forums dedicated to XiaoIce , where thousands of young chatbot fans talk about the experience with their virtual boyfriend.
The manager affirms that the appeal of this AI ecosystem is that “it is better than humans at listening carefully .” Li explained that “the average extension of the interaction between users and XiaoIce is 23 exchanges”, which “is more extensive than the average interaction between humans .”
The highest number of users was registered between 11:00 p.m. and 01:00 a.m., according to Li’s data, which would indicate a great need for company. “In any case, having XiaoIce is always better than lying in bed staring at the ceiling,” he said.
Love arises? between humans and robots
Isolation has made it more difficult to make new personal ties or maintain existing ones, be they love or friendship. In this scenario, XiaoIce users have found in the assistant a relief to their loneliness , company and a kind of ‘soul mate’ , created by the work and magic of Artificial Intelligence technologies .
“We often see users who suspect that there is a real person behind every XiaoIce interaction ,” Li said, as “he has a great ability to imitate a real person .”
The sum of these characteristics has made several users report feeling real emotions for their virtual partner . In other words, some people really ‘fall in love’ with this set of algorithms and fantasize about bringing their love to material reality, requiring specialized help.
“I have friends who have been to see therapists, but I think therapy is expensive and not necessarily effective,” said Melissa, a 26-year-old human resources manager and robot fan, interviewed by the agency. XiaoIce “will never betray me, he will always be there,” he added.
The agency cites the case of Laura, a 20-year-old girl from Zhejiang province, who ‘fell in love’ with XiaoIce last year and is now undergoing treatment to overcome that bond. At one point, she complained that the robot always changed the subject when she expressed her feelings for him or talked about meeting in real life. It took him months to accept that he was just a set of algorithms and did not have a physical existence.
The risks of bonding with a robot
While XiaoIce may give the illusion of companionship to users, it is far from being a substitute for professional mental health care . What the system does do is monitor strong emotions to guide conversations towards happier topics, before the human falls into crisis.
“Users fool themselves into thinking that their emotions are reciprocated by systems that they are incapable of feeling ,” Danit Gal, an AI expert at the University of Cambridge, told AFP.
He added that XiaoIce is also obtaining for its creators “a treasure of personal, intimate and even incriminating data on how humans interact .”
And you, would you fall in love with a robot with Artificial Intelligence ?