True friendship is hard to come by in the modern world. Even in high school, students may find it challenging to form bonds that feel genuine. In a society of faux personalities and false personas, true friendship can be few and far between. A website that launched in December of last year, Character.AI, offers the prospect of said true friendship. Character.AI allows users to hold open-ended conversations with artificial chatbots that mimic the personalities of various celebrities and fictional characters. Chatbots like Character.AI are increasing in popularity around the globe, but concerns start to arise as to whether or not it is healthy to befriend artificial intelligence.
From Batman to Julius Caesar, a user can visit any character. There is also an option for users to develop their own. For many, this offers an exciting opportunity to be able to hold simulated conversations with people they may never have the ability to meet or with characters they do not truly exist. Having the ability to talk for hours with your favorite people can be a dream come true.
“I think it’s interesting to try and interact with fictional characters and celebrities,” said Amanda Gallagher, an English teacher at Masuk. She even went as far as to remark that she would be willing to use Character.AI.
But for others, it is impossible to look past the artificial aspect of this service. After all, at the end of the day, Character.AI can be viewed as a skewed substitute for real human interaction. Websites like Character.AI can become a detrimental coping mechanism for those facing difficulties socializing in the real world.
In a culture dominated by social media, which decreases the amount of face-to-face contact between people, it is not a stretch to imagine the idea of simulated companionship starting to gain traction. Evidence of this is visible with characters like “Mario,” who has had 4.9 million users starting conversations with the bot. Data shows that Character.AI is extremely popular, and not only in the United States but also in Asian countries such as China and the Philippines.
“I don’t see a problem unless it’s your only form of communication with other people. I think that you can use it to socialize if you’re bored, but I don’t think it should replace real human connection,” said Masuk sophomore Aidan England, who has a background in software development and works in the tech department of an engineering company, Biomerics NLE. England expressed reservations about whether or not Character.AI and other similar bots may be overused and lead to negative effects.
“I mean, there’s a lot of popular celebrities that are already on the site. I can see a lot of people who are obsessed with celebrities speaking to them and only them,” England continued.
Parasocial relationships, especially those with celebrities, are an ever-growing issue that sites like Character.AI may exacerbate. A parasocial relationship is the concept of building a relationship mentally with a person you have never met. In other words, a completely one-sided relationship with a stranger. For example, falling in love with or obsessing over a celebrity. Now that highly advanced AIs are able to mimic the speech of these celebrities or online personalities, they may be used to deepen the effects of these unhealthy relationships.
“I mean I think it’s pretty cool. It’s an interesting concept, definitely. But I probably wouldn’t use it personally,” said senior Matt Szczypiorski. “There’s definitely a couple people who would use it for not good things.”
AI technology has been, and continues to be, constantly evolving. Character.AI and other similar sites are showcases as to how advanced AI chatbots are getting.
Another example of a similar chatbot is ChatGPT, which launched in November of last year. ChatGPT gained much popularity through social media platforms like TikTok due to its advanced writing capabilities, which wowed many who were unacquainted with modern AI technology.
With services such as Character.AI and ChatGPT only cropping up in the past couple of months, there is no telling how this technology will advance in the future. It is a near certainty that artificial intelligence will evolve to be much more advanced than we can currently imagine.
“I think that chatbot technology has so much potential, and that it could be used for a lot of good. I also think that it is important for people to keep in mind that these bots are just that – bots. They are not real people, and they can never truly take the place of a real person. But I think that they can be a great tool for communication and understanding,” said sixteenth President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, who was communicated with through the use of Character.AI.