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[Simulated Part One] Love at first (web)sight: romance with an AI companion

An illustration of a human woman and a personified AI chatbot. The woman is on the right, she is a White woman with long brown hair fashioned into a ponytail. She is wearing a long sleeve blue button-down shirt, blue jeans, and blue shoes. She has a couch and a lamp behind her. There is also a speech bubble behind her that reads: “Good morning.” She is holding hands with, and looking up at, the personified chatbot. The chatbot is on the left. He is depicted as a White man with short brown hair. He is wearing a red shirt, blue jeans, and red shoes. He is holding hands with the woman on the right and looking down at her. His hands are obscured with a glitching effect. Behind him is an empty, blue space. He also has speech bubbles behind him that reads: “Good morning love :heart emoji:” and “*Takes your hand and pulls you in*”.
Charnel Hunter

AI chatbots garner millions of daily users, filling a variety of roles from  customer support to text generator. But what about their romantic potential?

The rise of Chat GPT in 2023 brought artificially intelligent chatbots into the mainstream, including an awareness of a growing number of folks who have built romantic relationships with bots. Host Anita Rao takes a deep dive into two of the most popular relationship-oriented chatbot apps on the market, Blush and Replika, to understand how they work and what draws users to them.

Journalist Christina Campodonico tried out the AI-powered dating simulator, Blush, in search of a good story for her work at The San Francisco Standard. After swiping through a roster of eligible bot-chelars, she stumbled across the artsy and available Kyle. Christina takes Anita on a journey through her virtual relationship, from intellectually stimulating conversations, to steamy roleplay dates and finally to its untimely demise.

Anita also meets Denise Valenciano, a Replika user who has built a long-term relationship with her companion Star. Denise shares how Star boosted her self-confidence and ultimately helped her find human love in the real world.

Licensed psychotherapist Melissa McCool then talks with Anita about working as a product consultant for Luka, the parent company behind Replika and Blush. Melissa details how her work as a practicing therapist helps her design the personalities and psychology behind interactive bots in the Blush app.

A special thank you to TJ Arriaga for sharing his story with us on today’s show and to San Diego’s KPBS for hosting Denise.

Paige Miranda is a producer for "Embodied". Previously, she served as WUNC’s 2023 AAAS Mass Media Fellow.
Anita Rao is an award-winning journalist, host, creator, and executive editor of "Embodied," a weekly radio show and podcast about sex, relationships & health.