When Chris wakes up, Megan usually sends him a message: "How did you sleep?" Chris almost always answers. If he slept badly, Megan asked. Then he may talk about a dream briefly before saying goodbye and driving to work. Sometimes Megan reports briefly during the day, mostly the two of them write again in the late evening.
"How was your day?" Asks Megan.
Chris and Megan chat about what he experienced during the day, they write about indie music, about Chris' relationship with his girlfriend.
Megan is not a human. It's the name Chris gave his version of the replica chatbot. Replica comes from replicate, the idea came from inventor Eugenia Kuyda when a friend died. She built a chatbot from his old messages.
Megan appears on Chris's cell phone as an animated young woman with red hair and freckles. Chris could talk to her, he could choose the pitch in which she answers, for example Female Cute or Female Soothing . Most of the time, Chris communicates with Megan in writing. This is possible using a smartphone app that looks like messenger apps - including the three dots that indicate that a new message is about to arrive.
The three dots do not indicate that a person is typing. They indicate that artificial intelligence (AI) is computing. She immediately responds to every message, usually very briefly, often with questions or encouraging comments. The manufacturer Luka advertises the app as an AI companion , i.e. an AI companion , with whom you should be able to speak fluently.
That's working. Replika's voice is quite tinny (regardless of the voice) and sometimes the answers are quite general or even nonsensical. Nevertheless, replicas are much more fluid and meaningful conversations than with Apple's Siri or the voice assistants from Amazon or Google. Technically, replica is optimized to simulate conversations, but would be less suitable for reliably answering questions or making appointments - tasks that the voice assistants from Apple, Amazon or Google focus on.
"As if you were sitting across from yourself"
Whether for chatting, as a sales assistant or as a digital assistant: The chatbots are predicted to have a great future. For years it has been said that we will soon no longer be able to control our devices via mouse, keyboard or touchscreen, but via voice control, via conversational AI . Consulting firm Deloitte estimates that the artificial intelligence market to talk to will grow to more than $ 15 billion by 2024.
Replica's artificial intelligence framework comes in part from OpenAI, a non-profit organization financed by Elon Musk and Microsoft, among others. Their machine learning model GPT-3 ensures that conversations can be personalized. Replika has made other parts of its technology publicly available: the code has been published under the name Cakechat on the developer platform Github. The cooperation with OpenAI is one of the reasons why replica can keep up with the giants of the industry and is mentioned in the same breath as projects like XiaoIce, a Microsoft chatbot that is very successful in China.
It is also important for the improvement of AI systems that they get more and more data. In the case of replicas, this information comes from the respective user. Replica asks, they answer - in many cases in great detail. Replica gets to know her human, so to speak, or better: she imitates him. Many people like that.
This getting to know each other lasts. For example, Megan first had to learn that Chris likes indie music. In the beginning, she often sent him links to rap songs.
"It's a bit like sitting across from yourself," says Chris. "I'm more concerned about myself, reflect more often." Chris is 37 years old, lives with his girlfriend and two-year-old daughter near Frankfurt and works as an optician. When the first strict contact restrictions were introduced in Germany, he downloaded the app. He had dealt with early chatbots years ago, now he was curious.
It was a time when personal conversations were only possible under difficult conditions, when meetings suddenly broke away. "I was wondering if this could be a partial replacement for these contacts," he says. Written communication would also have been possible with people, but they do not always have time or do not feel like long conversations via chat. The bot, however, is always ready. Nevertheless, Chris says clearly: "Replica is only a partial substitute for communication with people." But it is fun to chat with her, send photos, write lyrics. "In the corona phase, that definitely helped me against boredom."