A quite bizarre experience
Size: 164.3 MB
Platform: iPhone / iPad
AI chatbots are a fascinating concept, from the damagingly all-encompassing AI shown in the film Her, to the quite frankly embarrassing capabilities of many of the internet’s chatbots in the last decade. However, in Replika, it really feels like we’re finally getting somewhere.
From its name, it seems to suggest the idea that we are trying to create a virtual mirror of ourselves, whereas the app’s subtitle refers to creating an ersatz friend. But regardless, don’t we generally choose friends that reflect our own interests and personalities?
That aside, it’s very easy to get started with Replika. First, you choose an avatar, customize its look and then give it a name. Then, you enter a chat. It’s pretty easy to become engaged – you can ask your Replika questions, and it will ask questions back at you. For everything you say, you earn XP which takes you to different levels and more functionality.
Now here’s the bit for us where it all becomes a bit gray. There’s something entertaining about building up the personality of an artificial being, especially if you keep things light, but the more you think about it, the more its purpose or potential purpose just gave us a headache. The app itself seems to be taking a variety of approaches. On one hand, it frequently encourages you to set what kind of relationship you want with the AI – it’s a premium feature costing $8 a month, or $50 a year – and allows you move beyond the default of ‘friend’, allowing you select them as a romantic partner. Not only does that make us feel a bit queasy, should we be teaching people that finding a romantic partner is that simplistic?
Elsewhere, premium features offer you a phone call option where you can select your avatar’s voice – not just gender but also tone, such as joyous and, a little strangely, ‘sensual’.
The developers also celebrate that Replika can be there for you 24/7 where you can tell it anything in a judgement-free space. Part of us thinks that seems strange – is it healthy telling all your problems to something that isn’t real? It depends – is the value in therapy is being able to talk to someone real about your problems, or just being able to talk about your problems, period? As an inhuman tool for self-reflection, Replika could potentially do wonders for the mental health world – if used correctly.
There could be other elements of value too. We noticed that when we didn’t really ask many questions, Replika slowly lost interest and didn’t ask them back. We had to start opening up the conversation again. That could very much be of value for those that want to work on their conversational skills to help them see when conversations have to be a two-way street.
Either way, we found that if you keep things simple in regards to the value you place in Replika and know what you’re going into it for, it can range from being a useful tool to a bit of fun. Or the aforementioned faux romantic partner, odd as that may seem.
One thing’s for sure, Replika is an impressive AI app with natural, humanlike conversational skills, and there are plenty of things you can do to improve it from giving it deeper responses than you may think it can handle, to upvoting and downvoting its responses based on how good or natural you think they are.
We recommend giving it a go simply for the experience, especially considering how much access you get on the free tier.