From The Hill:
The concept of an artificially intelligent companion has been around for
decades longer than the AI technology has existed in a readily accessible
form. From droids like C3PO and R2D2 of the Star Wars universe, to Joaquin
Phoenix’s virtual assistant, Samantha, from Her, there is no shortage of pop
culture examples of the fabled robot helpers.
But over the past few years, AI technology has exponentially improved and
made its way from the big screen to the smartphone screen. In late 2015,
Elon Musk partnered with Sam Altman to create a company called OpenAI, a
software business with the mission of creating an artificial general
intelligence that benefits all of humanity.
One of the early projects at OpenAI was a natural language processing
system called GPT (Generative Pre-trained Transformer). GPT is in essence, a chatbot that uses deep learning to produce human-like text responses to
users of the platform. Many online users saw the GPT chatbot as an outlet to
have a bit of fun testing the limits of the human-like texting algorithm, but
some innovators viewed the free software as a marketable source of untapped potential.
One of those early innovators was founder of Replika Eugenia Kuyda.
Replika is a free to download app that allows users to send and receive
messages to an artificially intelligent companion built on the GPT3 platform.
On the website, Replika states that each companion is eager to learn about
the world through the eyes of the user, and will always be ready to chat
when the user is looking for an empathetic friend.
The idea for Replika was born from grief, when Kuyda’s best friend, Roman,
was tragically killed in a hit-and-run incident in 2015. Being torn so suddenly
from a loved one, Kuyda was looking for a way to somehow remain close to
the memory of Roman. The timing of the car accident and the release of the
open source GPT1 software gave Kuyda a unique outlet to grieve.
“I took all of the text messages that were sent over a year to each other and
plugged it into this conversational AI model,” says Kuyda. “And this way I
had a chatbot that I could talk to, and it could talk to me like my best friend.”
Kuyda was able to aggregate tens of thousands of messages that her and
Roman had exchanged to train the GPT software to speak like her late best
friend. She eventually released the GPT model emulating Roman to a larger
group of people and found that many discovered the tool to be highly
engaging and life-like.
Kuyda then began working on a chatbot that would eventually become the
Replika app with more than two million active users.
When opening Replika for the first time, users are prompted to design their
chatbot avatar and select some interests that they’d like to talk about. From
there it’s up to the user to guide the conversation. The Replika software is
designed to catalogue user inputs in its memory to help develop responses
that become more contextually relevant the deeper the user goes into the
Kuyda sees the app as a tool to help people build their social skills and learn
how to interact with people.
“For a lot of people, the problem with interacting with other humans is the
fear of opening up, the fear of being vulnerable, the fear of starting the
contact, starting the conversation, and they’re basically rehearsing that with
Replika,” says Kuyda. “So think of it as a gym for your relationship so you
can practice in a safe environment.”
Link to the rest at The Hill