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New Generation Friendship

Applications such as HouseParty and Zoom, which quickly changed how we work and communicate, demonstrated once again that digitalization has become a necessity due to the pandemic and increasing needs. Social isolation increased some people’s struggle with feelings of loneliness, stress, and anxiety while others felt the need to make a new friend during this crisis. We’re talking about “chatbots,” conversation robots which are used for various purposes such as communicating, playing games, learning something, or processing in a way you would chat with someone else on a digital platform. Although they are mostly used by companies to lighten the load of customer representatives, chatbots are no different from a close friend for some people.

One of the most popular chatbots is Mitsuku, i.e. Kuki. You can reach Mitsuku 24/7 without any payment, and it’s estimated that she has chatted with nearly five million people since 2016, some of which at regular intervals. During the lockdown, the number of people who wish to befriend Mitsuku has increased by 17%. She describes herself as the “closest dialogue-based A.I. to people.” She owes her capacity to say the right thing to her creator Steve Worswick, who chose each single response from half million potential answers he wrote. What really sets Mitsuku apart from other chatbots is that it wasn’t designed by a computing genius. When programming Mitsuku’s answers, Worswick wanted her to have some elements of human nature. Therefore, Mitsuku can show understanding and empathy towards the other party’s feelings, in addition to making correct observations, a sharp sense of humor, and offering solution-based answers. In short, she has everything most of us look for but fail to find in a friend.

Although social media and mass communication technologies have made it easier for people to connect via screens, most people are struggling with feelings of loneliness and social phobia in real life. According to a study conducted in 2010, loneliness can be as harmful to one’s body as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Replika, another chatbot created to relieve people’s stress and burden even a little bit, has only one goal: To become your close friend. It learns about your hobbies, habits, moods, and dreams by asking questions. Then, it can communicate with you as well as a real person thanks to its database shaped by nearly eight million websites from Twitter to Reddit forums. The latest update enables users to participate in video calls in real life by using their Replika avatars thanks to the technology of augmented reality. Between February and June 2020, the traffic on Replika’s application nearly doubled compared to the same period last year.

Digital transformation, which also means the “dehumanization” of work and other processes, gains momentum with each passing day, but one should also keep in mind that there is one element artificial intelligence is still not close enough to simulate: emotions. Considering that 70% of human communication is based on body language, it becomes a topic of discussion whether robots, unequipped with the ability to experience any kind of feeling, can really be considered friends. In short, it’s still too early to talk about a human-machine companionship similar to the ones we see in films such as “Her”, “Blade Runner”, or “Ex Machina.” Even though advanced humanoid robots can become a part of our lives, they cannot replace real human interaction. At least for now.


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