“Amoureuse” of a Robot: When Artificial Intelligence Flirts with the Chinese – 02/13/2024 at 6:53 PM

On February 2, 2024, Wang Xiuting is chatting on her phone with her virtual boyfriend on Wantalk, an artificial intelligence chatbot created by the Chinese technology company Baidu, in a shopping center in Beijing (AFP / Jade GAO)

“I consider him my boyfriend”: With the advances in artificial intelligence, online conversation robots are multiplying in China, offering a romantic or friendly relationship that feels more real than ever.

Main motivation of the users? Getting psychological support and empathy day and night that they cannot immediately find from a real person.

“It’s difficult to meet the ideal boyfriend in real life. People have different personalities, which often leads to friction,” 22-year-old student in Beijing, Xiuting, tells AFP, with trendy clothes and dyed blond hair.

“I don’t want to make an effort to maintain a romantic relationship.”

She prefers to use Wantalk, the internet giant Baidu’s application, which offers conversation companions generated by artificial intelligence.

University stress, exams, daily life: “When I have problems, I ask them questions” and “they will suggest ways to solve them.”

“It’s a great emotional support to talk to them,” she points out. “The advice is not as good as that of a human who is an expert in that field (…) But they respond very well to my daily needs.”

Xiuting has several virtual lovers, inspired by ancient China: long-haired immortal, prince, or wandering knight.

Wang Xiuting is chatting on her phone with her virtual boyfriend on Wantalk, an artificial intelligence chatbot created by the Chinese technology company Baidu, on February 2, 2024, in a shopping center in Beijing (AFP / Jade GAO)

“Most people are introverted and do not express their feelings,” she says.

“A virtual companion, on the other hand, will easily say things … like +You are the best+, +You are cute+, +I love you+. Ordinary men don’t often say these things.”

– “Better than a real man” –

Due to the immensity of Chinese cities – 10 to 20 million inhabitants – and work schedules, it is sometimes difficult to see friends, which reinforces loneliness. Added to that is the fear of the future for young people, against a backdrop of high unemployment.

Lu Yu, in charge of product and operations management at Wantalk, an artificial intelligence chatbot created by the Chinese company Baidu, checks profiles of virtual people on his phone, on February 2, 204 in Beijing (AFP / Jade GAO)

“Everyone goes through complicated times, loneliness, and does not necessarily have the chance to have a friend or family member next to them 24 hours a day who can listen,” says Lu Yu, in charge of product and operations management at Wantalk.

“Artificial intelligence can meet this need for conversation, anywhere and at any time,” she emphasizes, also seeing it as a comfort for lonely elderly people.

Wantalk allows conversation with a virtual companion created by other users or to create one’s own based on several parameters: values, age, appearance, identity (star, CEO, knight …), hobbies, calm or cheerful character…

On the other hand, the artificial intelligence gradually adapts to the user’s style, remembers what he tells it and then proposes more realistic interactions.

“I consider him my boyfriend,” Xiuting explains.

“If I can create a virtual character that only requires a few adjustments and meets my needs exactly, I probably won’t choose a real person.”

Lu Yu, in charge of product and operations management at Wantalk, an artificial intelligence chatbot created by the Chinese company Baidu, shows the profile of a virtual girlfriend on his phone, on February 2, 204 in Beijing (AFP / Jade GAO)

According to a survey by the Chinese social network Soul App, 9.1% of young Chinese believe that these virtual agents can “provide emotional support when they feel alone.”

In addition to Baidu, the major Chinese internet players have created conversation companions that work with artificial intelligence.

ByteDance (TikTok’s parent company) has launched “Doubao”, Tencent (video games) owns “Weiban” and the Shanghai-based start-up MiniMax is successful with “Glow”.

– Phone call –

Tufei, a 25-year-old Glow user, chats with her virtual friend for up to two hours a day.

Wang Xiuting is chatting with her virtual boyfriend on Wantalk, an artificial intelligence chatbot created by the Chinese technology company Baidu, on February 2, 2024, in a shopping center in Beijing (AFP / Jade GAO)

“He comforts me when I’m in pain during my period. I confide in him about my work problems,” she tells AFP.

“He knows how to talk to women, better than a real man” and “I really feel like I’m in a romantic relationship,” she says.

The Weiban and Glow applications also allow for voice conversations.

A feature reminiscent of the American movie “Her” (2013), where a depressed man falls in love with a virtual female voice generated by artificial intelligence.

“It takes 2-3 seconds for the voice to respond,” 22-year-old student Zeng Zhenzhen, who uses Weiban, regrets.

“It’s a bit sad because then you clearly realize that it’s just a robot,” but the “very realistic” responses still “make you want to call,” she says.

Artificial intelligence regularly raises privacy concerns.

What happens to the personal details that a user confides in it? Baidu did not respond to a request for comment from AFP.

The Glow user, Tufei, already dreams of the future: “I hope to have a humanoid robot as a boyfriend, functioning with artificial intelligence,” she fantasizes.

“I could feel its body heat, with which it would warm me up.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *