Nov 8, 2023 - Technology

Replika exec: AI friends can improve human relationships

Woman in a chair pointing at her head

Rita Popova. Photo: Axios Events

An AI friend or lover can teach us what it means to be human, Rita Popova, the chief product officer of digital companion companies Replika and Blush, said at the Axios' AI+ Summit in San Francisco Wednesday.

Driving the news: Popova explained to Axios' Ina Fried how Replika, an AI companion service, evolved into Blush, which is an AI-powered dating simulation, and is now transforming again into an AI life coach.

  • Replika, Popova says, started with this question: "What if we could teach robots to at least understand our emotions?"
  • She has been communicating with her Replika for six years and says that working on the product and using it regularly has helped her see how difficult it is to make digital companions work right.

She was surprised when people started falling in love with their Replikas: "People were having really profound, committed relationships."

  • That's when she decided to create Blush, an app that lets you "practice dating."
  • Popova didn't reveal the name of the new life coach service, but did tell the audience to ask their Replikas, because they might reveal it.

Reality check: Popova asserts that AI companions can help make people better at being companions to other humans, but she says it's also a challenge not to create a product that becomes a replacement for human friends and companions.

  • "We need to be vigilant about not optimizing for engagement," Popova said. "We don't want to keep people in the app, we want to make them feel better."

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