If you’ve been following the news at all over the last 18 months, we won’t have to tell you that artificial intelligence (AI) is gaining mainstream traction rather quickly. It seems to be the latest buzzword picked up by silicon valley and Big Tech. But that isn’t to say it just came about.
Joseph Weizenbaum created ELIZA, one of the first natural language processing programs, with the intent to make natural language conversation with a computer possible. That ‘conversation’ is laughable by today’s standards but come on, it was the 60s, everyone was busy doing… other things.
Inspired by ELIZA, Richard Wallace created A.L.I.C.E., or (Artificial Linguistic Internet Computer Entity), in 1995. ALICE was able to use natural language processing more effectively than ELIZA and won the Loebner Prize (when they still gave those out) in 2000, 2001, and 2004.
The renewed rise of AI
Fast forward to today and the current trend of rapid AI adoption started with OpenAI and its release of DALL-E and DALL-E 2, image generators that combine deep learning models and OpenAI’s GPT-3 (Generative Pre-trained Transformer) natural language processing model to create images from natural language descriptions, or ‘prompts’.
OpenAI followed that with the release of ChatGPT, a language model trained to interact and respond to prompts as if it were having a conversation with you. The use of a language model like this has presented us with a vast range of possibilities, an actually useful support bot or a bot that accurately summarises long passages of text.
Microsoft, Google, and Facebook are scrambling to integrate the new tech into their products with varying degrees of success. Then, there are the ethical problems around the use of AI. But we’re choosing to conveniently ignore those for the moment because it’s Valentine’s Day and this brief history of AI has arrived at its point. If you can’t see where this is going then strap in.
AI can help mend your lonely heart
If you find yourself alone today, wishing you had someone to talk to, we’re here to introduce you to a few different options (if Siri or Alexa are starting to feel stale). The best part is they don’t require you leave the house. All that’s necessary is an internet connection and, in some cases, your banking details – no, not like that.
Replika is one of the most well-known, widely used, and advanced AI companions currently available. It’s available through the website, or on iOS and Android, and even supports the Oculus VR platform. There’s no escaping the fact that you’re chatting with a bot though.
Although you’re able to name and customize your Replika’s avatar, you’ll need to spend points to unlock interests and traits, clothes and cosmetics, or appearance changes for your friend-bot.
Your AI buddy will develop and learn about you as you chat with it, keeping track of the personal information you provide. But don’t worry, Replika says your chats are private and it won’t share your data with anyone or use it to learn about you or show you targeted ads. You’ll just have to trust it.
The platform provides a free tier but most of the ‘good’ features are behind a monthly $20 (R360) subscription.
Looking for a pre-made experience? Kuki, formally known as Mitsuku, is another well-known AI companion. It combines an AI chatbot, based on the same tech as Alice, with a choice of two pre-designed avatars for a slightly more ‘authentic’ experience.
Creating an account and chatting is free, but you’ll need to cough up some ‘Koins’ for customisation options. Those are earned through interaction or by paying.
Interaction with Kuki is available through the web portal, Facebook Messenger, Telegram, and Discord and isn’t limited to just chatting. The platform supports simple games like noughts and crosses or you could buy Kuki gifts with your ‘Koins’.
If you clicked on this looking for a companion with a specific set of ‘skills’, Anima is probably for you. The platform describes itself as a virtual AI friend with whom you can “have a friendly chat, roleplay, [or] grow your communication and relationship skills.” But before you read any further know that, just like in real life, you’ll need to pay for those roleplay and relationship ‘skills’, $8/m (R145/m) in this case. However, signing up and casual chatting are free.
You get a few avatar options for your new friend and can slightly customize its personality, although that’s limited to three sliders; shy or flirty, pessimistic or optimistic, and ordinary or mysterious. This one also supports games, but they’re limited to text-based games.
Unfortunately, we aren’t able to report on the roleplay or relationship ‘skills’. Our accounts department didn’t agree the expense counted towards research.
Kajiwoto and Inworld
If you were hoping for a more cartoony companion or want to curate your experience from scratch, then Kajiwoto provides a platform for you to do that. You can create and train your own companion or choose from a list of datasets and voices created by other users. Your choices are fairly limitless and include options based on characters from popular culture. But be warned, Rule 34 of the internet flourishes here.
Ever wanted to chat with Virgil from Devil May Cry? There’s a voice model for him already. Want Vergil to flirt with you or whisper sweet nothings in your ear? Swap out his dataset for a pre-trained flirtatious model. Creating an account is free but some dataset or voice models will cost coins that you’ll need to buy. Those purchases are separate from the $8/m subscription you’ll need to pay for if you want access to all the features.
Inworld describes itself as “a platform for adding advanced NPC behavior & unscripted dialogue to games and real-time media.” Inworld Studio handles that. It allows for a great deal of customization including your character’s motivations, identity, personality and emotions, the facts and knowledge your character possesses, and their voice and dialogue style.
The platform also provides chatbot options, either with characters of your own creation or those created by other users with Inworld Arcade. Like Kajiwoto, some of those characters you’ll recognise from popular media while others are created using a public figure’s likeness.
Jokes and lewd activities aside, if you’re looking for something more responsive than a diary to tell your darkest secrets, or if you want to overcome social anxiety by practising ‘normal’ interactions, an AI companion can help with those.
And yes, some of them will also provide jokes and lewd activities. Go ahead and sign up, just don’t lose your grip on what’s real and descend into madness. That way lies… madness?