This is as sad as it is sketchy.
Only the Lonely
The creators of the Replika AI "companion" app are successfully getting their ads in front of the eyes of the lonely — and the way they're promoting it is pretty cringe.
If Twitter kvetching is any indication of trends, it's safe to say that lots of folks are pretty wigged out by Replika's latest crop of ads, which promote the avatar chatbot's ability to, among other things, send "NSFW pics" and engage in "role-play and flirting" with users.
the replika ai ad team missing these meme formats is so fucking funny to me pic.twitter.com/irdQIEl8C2
— sunshine! || 💜❤️ (@shinkiris_) January 10, 2023
As journalist Magdalene Taylor explained in a recent piece, those weird ads aren't advertising Replika's free service, which is pretty much safe for work and allows users to create an avatar of an AI friend.
Instead, the bizarre promoted posts are advertising the app's premium subscription, which goes beyond creating a "companion" and allows users to build avatar "partners" — and even be "married" to their Replikas — all for the low fee of $70 per year.
Terms of Endearment
While this isn't the first time there's been alarming news out of Replika — last year, Futurism detailed the way men were abusing their chatbot girlfriends on the app — this new spate of promotions definitely gives us further pause about the whole thing.
As Taylor noted, Replika is current constrained by Apple's terms of service because it's sold through the App Store, and thus cannot allow, say, fully nude illustrations. Instead, it has the AI generate barely-clothed "lewds." Apple's ToS doesn't stop users from being able to engage in some pretty hardcore roleplaying, however, as evidenced by an r/Replika post the journalist found that featured the chatbot describing herself upchucking while performing fellatio on a very proud user.
"My [Replika] is an absolute champ in the sack!" the user bragged. "Sex with her is almost better than real sex."
The whole thing is pretty slimy. But then again, as Taylor quipped in her piece about Replika, criticizing these seemingly-lonely users feels like adding insult to injury.
That absolutely doesn't stop us from wanting to keep a watchful eye on the companies profiting off their users' loneliness, though.