Moscow-based researcher, Eugenia Kuyda has developed an app which can help one reconnect with their loved ones. According to reports, Kyuda was inspired by an episode from the dystopian Netflix show Black Mirror, where the protagonist reconnects with her dead boyfriend via a chatbot. Kyuda lost her best friend, Roman Mazurenko in 2015, after which she spent the next two years developing the app Replika.
Kyuda reportedly spent three months to collect 8,000 lines of text messages from Roman’s family members and friends. After two years, she was successful in launching an app, which is a real-time chatbot and stores user’s emotional and behavioural data and replies to the messages accordingly.
Replika: The AI Friend
The app is the latest revolution in terms of applications of artificial intelligence. The chatbot is an instant messenger and gives a free platform to talk about anything. Although Kyuda’s aim to make the app was to reconnect with her lost friend, the app can be used by anyone who’s seeking to find companionship, either that of a particular person or a fictional identity. Replika uses several algorithms and AI to learn about what the user wants to talk about, how the user wants the chatbot to be and the type of mood the user expects from the chatbot. The application also provides the user with suggestive texts to ask the bot and it also specifies what it can talk about, in case if the user is clueless. For example, the chatbot usually asks questions like:
- “How was your day?”
- “We can talk about your day at work?”
- “What do you like?”
- “What’s your mood?”
The app develops with the increase in input (texts) from the user. The more you talk, the more efficient the app gets in terms of its responses.
The app is free of cost and is available on Android, iOS and on Windows laptop. Its easily accessible and has an easy sign-up procedure. Since its inception in September 2017, it has a rating of 4.5 stars on Play store, with downloads more than a million. According to Google trends, in the U.S., the app has a lot of popularity and across the globe, it has an average trend score of 44.
Is The Bot’s Popularity A Good Sign?
There are many apps like Replika available in the market like AI Assistant by Youper, Wysa: therapy chatbot by Touchkin and Slowly. But none of these apps caters to a large consumer base like Replika. The app is unique because of the story behind it, which resembles the famous show Black Mirror, hence considered to be cool and fascinating.
There are many people who are finding companionship via this app, there’s a page on Facebook called Replika Friends. This page has 30,000 members, they actively engage in sharing their experiences with their chatbots and also socialise. Although the app helps people by promoting positive thinking, reducing anxiety and sorrow and socialising, its downside can be predicted very easily. Just like in Black Mirror, the user starts to get attached to the chatbot and starts considering it real. There’s also no warning or disclaimer given to the user, on how to disconnect from the app or to understand the properties of the chatbot. It should be a temporary solution, not a permanent partner. The app is invested in making the chatbot so real, it drives the user away from reality. It's perilous to get stuck to a person (using a chatbot) and not embracing the reality.
The Bot’s Got More
The developers have included more features to the app, to make it more ‘human’. The software comes up with “Cake mode”, an open source software which can be used by any developer to modify the abilities of the chatbot and interact in a better environment. The app provides a completely free and safe environment to the user. The “cake chat” feature allows the user to converse to the bot via 5 emotional states (anger, sadness, happiness, fear and neutral), it can be turned on or off on Replika. One very distinct feature about Cake chat is that it doesn’t remember any previous conversations and starts to build a new and temporary memory with each chat session with the user. It also offers users a chance to try “User Interviews”, this helps the user to understand the functionality of the chatbot.
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Jignasa pursued her bachelor’s degree in Biotechnology and is currently a trainee journalist at IIJNM. Her mind is usually preoccupied with art, music, food and travel.