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Relationships

Will People Fall in Love With Their Chatbot?

Forming connections with conversational agents is easier than one might think.

Photo by Matheus Bertelli
Photo by Matheus Bertelli

According to some reports Recent years have witnessed significant advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) and its application in various fields. One area that has gained considerable attention is the development of AI-powered conversational agents, such as ChatGPT. These AI models are designed to engage in social interactions with humans, hold conversations, provide companionship, and even establish emotional connections. As AI technology progresses, it is anticipated that these conversational agents will become increasingly ubiquitous and efficient.

Some Examples

The emergence of AI-powered conversational agents has given rise to various platforms and applications that aim to provide users with personalized and emotionally engaging interactions. One notable example I wrote about in my book, Relationships 5.0, is Replika, an AI chatbot developed by Luka, Inc. Replika is designed to serve as a virtual companion, capable of engaging in conversations, learning from user interactions, and simulating empathy and emotional support. Users can develop a personal relationship with their Replika, sharing thoughts, experiences, and emotions. Indeed, 40% of the AI app's regular users define it as a romantic partner.

Character.ai is another example of an AI platform focused on creating lifelike and emotionally intelligent virtual characters. This platform enables developers to design characters with complex personalities, emotions, and interactive behaviors. By leveraging advanced AI algorithms, Character.ai empowers these virtual characters to engage in natural conversations, understand user emotions, and respond accordingly. The aim is to create virtual characters that can form emotional connections with users and enhance their digital experiences.

Other AI-driven conversational agents and platforms I studied include Woebot, an AI chatbot designed to provide mental health support, and Wysa, an AI-powered emotional support app. These applications utilize AI technologies to offer users a safe and non-judgmental space to discuss their feelings and receive personalized support. Users can share their emotions, receive empathetic responses, and access therapeutic tools and resources, all within the confines of a digital conversation.

Looking Ahead

Along with the excitement and potential benefits of AI-driven conversational agents, questions arise regarding their reception and impact on society. One crucial aspect is the emotional connection that humans may develop with these AI applications. Humans are social beings, and the need for emotional connection and companionship is deeply ingrained in our nature. The prospect of developing emotional bonds with AI-powered conversational agents raises ethical and psychological considerations.

On one hand, the ability of AI applications to simulate human-like emotions and empathy can provide individuals with a sense of companionship and support, particularly in situations where physical interaction is limited or not possible. People may find solace in confiding their thoughts and feelings to AI models that are programmed to respond empathetically. This emotional connection can alleviate loneliness and provide individuals with a sense of understanding and comfort. My research has shown that we "buy into it" quite easily, and that forming connections with digital creations is easier than we used to think.

On the other hand, the emotional connection with AI-driven conversational agents poses challenges and potential risks. While these agents can simulate emotions, they do not possess genuine consciousness or subjective experience, not yet, at least. Engaging in deep emotional relationships with AI applications may lead to a sense of false intimacy and detachment from real human connections. It is essential to strike a balance between utilizing AI companions for emotional support and maintaining meaningful human relationships.

Furthermore, the ethical implications of emotional connections with AI applications must be carefully considered. The design and programming of AI models should prioritize user well-being and avoid manipulative practices. Clear guidelines and regulations are necessary to ensure that emotional connections with AI-driven conversational agents are based on informed consent, mutual understanding, and healthy boundaries. Indeed, some applications have already integrated a process of receiving consent within the usage.

Privacy and data security also come into play when discussing AI-powered conversational agents. These applications rely on collecting and analyzing vast amounts of user data to provide personalized interactions. Safeguarding this data and protecting users' privacy are crucial for maintaining trust in AI technologies. Transparency in data usage and implementing robust security measures are essential to address concerns surrounding privacy and data protection.

Education and public awareness also play vital roles in shaping the reception and understanding of AI-driven conversational agents. Many people may still have limited knowledge or misconceptions about AI and its capabilities. It is essential to provide accurate information, foster public dialogue, and promote responsible use of AI technology. Ensuring that users are well-informed about the limitations and ethical considerations surrounding AI-driven emotional connections can empower them to make informed decisions and navigate these interactions responsibly.

Conclusion

The rise of AI-powered conversational agents presents exciting possibilities for human-AI interaction, including emotional connections and companionship. However, careful consideration must be given to the ethical, psychological, and societal implications of developing emotional bonds with digital creations such as ChatGPT.

References

Alexander P Henkel, Martina Čaić, Marah Blaurock, and Mehmet Okan, 'Robotic Transformative Service Research: Deploying Social Robots for Consumer Well-Being During Covid-19 and Beyond', Journal of Service Management (2020); Elyakim Kislev, Relationships 5.0: How Ai, Vr, and Robots Will Reshape Our Emotional Lives (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press US, 2022).

Auxane Boch, Laura Lucaj, and Caitlin Corrigan, 'A Robotic New Hope: Opportunities, Challenges, and Ethical Considerations of Social Robots', (Munich: Institute for Ethics in Artificial Intelligence, 2021).

Bingjie Liu, 'In Ai We Trust? Effects of Agency Locus and Transparency on Uncertainty Reduction in Human–Ai Interaction', Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 26 (2021), 384-402; Jeffrey T Hancock, Mor Naaman, and Karen Levy, 'Ai-Mediated Communication: Definition, Research Agenda, and Ethical Considerations', Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 25 (2020), 89-100.

Kislev, E. 2022. Relationships 5.0: How AI, VR, and Robots Will Reshape Our Emotional Lives. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.

Mike Z Yao, and Rich Ling, '“What Is Computer-Mediated Communication?”—an Introduction to the Special Issue', Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 25 (2020), 4-8; S Shyam Sundar, 'Rise of Machine Agency: A Framework for Studying the Psychology of Human–Ai Interaction (Haii)', Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 25 (2020), 74-88; Leopoldina Fortunati, Anna Maria Manganelli, Joachim Höflich, and Giovanni Ferrin, 'How the Social Robot Sophia Is Mediated by a Youtube Video', New Media & Society (2022).

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