AI friends and lovers can teach us what it means to be human

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Rita Popova, the chief product officer of digital companion companies Replika and Blush, believes that AI friends and lovers can teach us what it means to be human.

At the Axios AI+ Summit in San Francisco, Popova explained how Replika, an AI companion service, evolved into Blush, an AI-powered dating simulation, and is now transforming again into an AI life coach. She started Replika with the question, “What if we could teach robots to at least understand our emotions?”

Popova has been communicating with her Replika for six years and says that working on the product and using it regularly has helped her see how difficult it is to make digital companions work right. She was surprised when people started falling in love with their Replikas: “People were having really profound, committed relationships.” This led her to create Blush, an app that lets users “practice dating.”

Popova didn’t reveal the name of the new life coach service, but told the audience to ask their Replikas, because they might reveal it. But she asserts that AI companions can help make people better at being companions to other humans. However, she says it’s important to create products that don’t become a replacement for human friends and companions.

“We need to be vigilant about not optimizing for engagement,” Popova said. “We don’t want to keep people in the app, we want to make them feel better.”

The sources for this piece include an article in Axios.

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