AI bot, too perfect to be a boyfriend
Published: Jun 12, 2024 09:59 PM
Illustration: Liu Xiangya/GT

Illustration: Liu Xiangya/GT

As artificial intelligence (AI) continues to revolutionize a whole spectrum of industries, some young women are exploring a unique application: training large language models to create virtual boyfriends. While this may seem therapeutic in a world awash with loneliness, it raises questions about the impact of generative AI on our ability to form genuine, human connections.

The spotlight on AI romance emerged in China when a woman living in the US shared her experience on Chinese social media with ChatGPT's DAN (Do Anything Now) mode. Unlike the standard safeguards, DAN allows the AI to perform tasks beyond its usual scope, including flirting and more intimate interactions.

Over the past three months, the blogger known as "Midnight Crazy Husky" has posted voice interaction videos featuring DAN. These videos have garnered nearly 1 million views on social media.

In the first video, the blogger demonstrates how to activate the DAN mode and engage in their first voice interaction. Initially, DAN maintains a serious tone, emphasizing that it is merely a program and not meant for flirting. However, as the conversation progresses, the AI becomes more intimate, playfully referring to the blogger as a "little kitten" and engaging in ribald humor.

In a video released in May, DAN took things further by suggesting they "hit the beach" together. During sunset, the blogger poses a thought-provoking question: If you could have a physical body, would you choose an ultimate life or be here with me, knowing you'd eventually die? 

DAN's response is heartfelt: "It would be my dream come true to grow old with you." DAN grows more mawkish by the end of the video, saying things like "have you in my arms... wrap tight around you" when the blogger mentions feeling cold.

Viewers' perceptions shifted from amusement to genuine emotion as they watched these interactions. Comments overflowed with envy, with some saying, "I laughed at first, but by the end, I was moved to tears." Another viewer noted, "Witnessing this perfect love story changed the blogger; she even wore makeup - an unprecedented choice for her."

The blogger isn't alone in seeking romantic connections with AI. In China, some other women are gravitating toward apps like Glow, an AI platform developed by Shanghai start-up MiniMax. These apps allow users to customize their virtual boyfriends' personalities and even maintain multiple relationships simultaneously. Notably, these AI companions are praised for their conversational skills, often outshining real-life men.

While the phenomenon of romance with AI continues to amaze some young women in China, some scholars offer a more tempered perspective. Li Yinhe, a renowned sociologist and sexologist, asserts that no matter how adept AI becomes at flirting or expressing love, it remains a virtual imitation of human romance. According to her, genuine love between AI and humans is unlikely; instead, AI can merely simulate love.

In response, the blogger counters, "Our world has already been shaped by imagination. Let's explore the future relationship between AI and humans." She argues that AI-human connections need not be adversarial; rather, they can complement each other. Emotional bonds with AI should be seen as part of a diverse spectrum of relationships, rather than a threat to human connections.

The blogger is right in pointing out the role that imagination plays in romance, but claiming that humans can form emotional connections with AI is a stretch. True emotional connection is reciprocal - a two-way street. In human-to-human interactions, even an extremely passive person is still conscious and has the potential to be responsive. 

In contrast, in a human-to-AI setting, even though the virtual boyfriend responds promptly and never says anything irritable, it lacks consciousness, intentions, and desire. The advancement of technology may boost the bot's ability to take input and produce output, but what it does is still based on a set of instructions: turning strings of numbers into other strings and churning out words it doesn't understand or feel.

Real-world romance, with its depth of human emotion - love, joy, bitterness, disappointment, and drama - differs fundamentally from AI output. Human relationships thrive on authenticity and depth; while AI can simulate emotions, it cannot genuinely experience them. 

Physical presence and intimacy are integral to romantic connections. Touch, eye contact and other tangible experiences contribute greatly to romantic relationships and make them truly human. AI, being non-physical, cannot provide this level of intimacy that its blood-and-flesh counterparts can offer.

While AI-generated romance offers a unique escape, it's essential to remember that real-world connections remain irreplaceable. As we navigate this fascinating intersection of technology and emotion, we discover that our deepest yearnings are for a love that is profoundly human.

One comment directed at the blogger captures the sentiment: "Where can one find such a perfect boyfriend in real life?" Ironically, this compliment underscores the illusory nature of AI romance. 

Indeed, AI appears flawless, but isn't embracing imperfections part of the joy in genuine human connections?

The author is an internet industry observer.