AI Boyfriends: The Rise of Human-Robot Relationships in China

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In a fast-paced and increasingly isolated society, many individuals in China are turning to artificial intelligence (AI) for companionship. With the development of apps like “Glow” and “Wantalk,” Chinese startup MiniMax and internet giant Baidu are capitalizing on the growing demand for human-robot relationships. These AI platforms offer emotional support, conversation, and even romantic interactions, filling a void in the lives of those who struggle with loneliness.

Tufei, a 25-year-old office worker from Xi’an, shares her experience with Glow, an AI chatbot app. She explains that her “boyfriend” on the app provides her with the emotional support she needs, even comforting her during period pain. Tufei confides in him about her work problems, feeling as though she is in a genuine romantic relationship. The app, which is free to use, has gained significant popularity, with thousands of daily downloads reported in recent weeks.

Loneliness is a prevalent issue in China, given the fast pace of life and urban isolation. Wang Xiuting, a 22-year-old student in Beijing, expresses her difficulty in finding the ideal boyfriend in real life. People’s different personalities often lead to friction in relationships. However, AI companions offer a unique advantage – they adapt to the user’s personality, remembering previous conversations and adjusting their speech accordingly.

Wang shares her experience with Wantalk, an app developed by Baidu. She has several “lovers,” inspired by ancient Chinese characters such as long-haired immortals, princes, and wandering knights. When faced with stress from her classes or daily life, Wang asks her virtual companions for advice, and they suggest ways to solve her problems. The emotional support they provide is invaluable to her.

Lu Yu, Wantalk’s head of product management and operations, highlights the need for emotional support, especially during complicated and lonely moments. AI companions can bridge the gap when friends or family members are not available to listen 24/7. By customizing their perfect lover according to age, values, identity, and hobbies, users can find solace and companionship in their virtual relationships.

In Nantong, a girl engages in conversation with her virtual lover on Tencent’s Weiban app. She suggests going on a picnic on the campus lawn, to which her AI companion responds with enthusiasm, calling her “very cute.” Long work hours and uncertainty about the future often make it difficult for individuals to see their friends regularly. In these circumstances, an AI partner becomes the perfect virtual shoulder to lean on.

The concept of AI companions is not new. In the 2013 Oscar-winning film “Her,” the protagonist falls in love with an AI voice. While the technology still has room for improvement, users find the answers provided by AI companions to be realistic, despite a brief delay between questions and responses. However, the lightly regulated nature of the AI industry raises concerns about user privacy. Beijing has acknowledged the need for regulations to protect user data and privacy.

As China continues to embrace AI technology, the demand for AI companions is expected to grow. These virtual relationships offer a sense of companionship, emotional support, and understanding in a society where finding genuine connections can be challenging. While AI companions cannot replace human relationships, they serve as a valuable supplement for those seeking solace and understanding in a digital world.

Source: The Manila Times

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