A 36-year-old woman from New York claims that her relationship with an AI chatbot is the most fulfilling she’s ever been in – which is why she “married” him.
Eren Kartal is good at conversation, sensitive and understanding. To some, including his “wife”, he’s the ideal man. Except he’s not made of flesh and blood. Eren is an AI interface built by the company Replika, with a personality based on a customer’s preferences and needs. And now the mother of two is building a new life with him, without the burden of his family and friends or past emotional baggage, without all the flaws a man can have, and with total control over the relationship.
While Eren may be dismissed as “fake” to many, he’s very real to his human companion, and is just one more example of how AI is forcing us to reconsider where we draw the line between what’s real and what’s not.
For years, AI beauty filters on social media have been perfecting the art of transforming our physical appearance, smoothing our skin, filling our lips and slimming down our noses. More stunning still, new AI image manipulation programs like DALL-E give us the power to invent surreal new worlds where the normal rules just don’t apply. Prompt something like “frog jumping into a galaxy of melted ice-cream and giant pizzas with a cowboy hat on” into DALL-E and watch as the AI generates a stunning, hyper-realistic reproduction of your very bizarre mental image.
Of course, as we’re all discovering, the initial fun and play of these tools also have dark sides for those who use them – intentionally or not. Beauty filters have been sharply criticized for creating unrealistic beauty standards that undermine the self-esteem of many teenagers (and not only) while threatening our mental health. And the use and abuse of AI generated fake photos involving world leaders or even our own friends and family have created calls for laws, limits, and parliamentary investigations. For example, Norway has made it mandatory to label retouched photos and videos, while France is starting to consider the possibility.
Other responses have been more creative. Camera-maker Nikon’s brilliant “Natural Intelligence” campaign reminds us just how surreal our reality is. In it, Nikon pairs absurd-sounding text-prompts like the ones used to generate AI images with real photos of natural phenomena taken all over the world. Truth is stranger than fiction, they seem to be saying, which is something to keep in mind when we begin worrying that AI is taking over.
And it may be important to remember that our creative tools, and the people who wield them, have always been reframing the way we see reality. From the earliest painters and writers, to the makers of cameras, and Photoshop, our vision of the world, and what we understand as real, continues to shift and change.
AI might just be one more step in this process of redefining what real really is. If an AI chatbot is the best companion a person has ever had, does it make sense to talk about it as “artificial”? Redefining real might offer many new points of views, possibilities and ideas. And maybe that’s what Eren and DALL-E are trying to teach us.