A website allows fans around the world to have one-on-one conversations with their favorite celebrities, icons, and personalities. The only catch? The conversations are with a machine, not with a person.
Character.ai, an artificial intelligence website created by two former Google engineers, Noam Shazeer and Daniel De Freitas, went public last September. Since then, it has grown in popularity, but it boomed this year, according to Google trends. In recent days, the website has also generated buzz on Twitter, with an influx of users admitting to spending hours on character.ai, almost forgetting that the personality they’re texting with isn’t real thanks to the fluidity. of the AI.
The free website offers a large selection of both real and fictional characters for users to chat with, from former President Donald Trump to the fictional character Joel Miller from HBO’s hit series and video game «The Last of Us.» ”. .” It offers tools such as practicing how to interview or writing a story. It also has an option called “help me make a decision”.
Among fans of fan fiction, the tool has been enthusiastically received. When the website, which is in beta mode, briefly went down for maintenance this week, many ventposted on Twitter that they missed the platform. Some joked that they were in the middle of important conversations.
Such enthusiasm is not surprising, according to some experts on «stan» culture, as the innovation allows for a new way for fans to interact with the fandom.
«I think fans in general are looking for more and more ways to connect with their favorite personalities, especially online,» said Denisha Kuhlor, founder of Stan, a platform where fans can network with each other. «People who, in the past, would just have been some kind of spectator and would play on the sidelines like more spectators are now encouraged. [to participate] either, you know, just duetting a video on TikTok or even commenting, I think [character.ai] It’s like the next iteration of people also contributing to creating content.»
Its popularity also comes as AI chatbots grow in popularity, with many trying to replicate the success of AI software like ChatGPT, an advanced chatbot prototype that became popular and problematic last year. In January, an app called Historical Figures, which uses GPT-3 technology in an attempt to simulate the perspective of notable people, also went viral.
character.ai uses its own «deep learning models, including extensive language models», from scratch, according to its FAQ page. It’s unclear if celebrities consent to their images being used, but it appears there are several user-created chatbots for many of the celebrities and characters on the site.
This type of platform allows people to «get more experienced» in the realm of fan fiction, Kuhlor said. She described that character.ai makes the barrier to entry «much lower» for those who want to start writing fan fiction.
The parasocial relationships that fans have with stars, to some degree, are crucial to the success of a platform like character.ai.
“Every technology I can think of has been a vehicle for parasocial relationships, because humans were created to connect with others,” said Wendi Gardner, an associate professor of psychology at Northwestern University. «And so we do.»
In Character.ai, most bots are created by users from scratch. But Character.ai emphasizes that the interactions are not real. “The product is based on neural language models,” the site states in its FAQ. «A supercomputer reads large amounts of text and learns to hallucinate what words might appear next in a given situation.»
Every technology I can think of has been a vehicle for parasocial relationships, because humans were created to connect with others.
-Wendi Gardner, associate professor of psychology at Northwestern University
That means «characters make stuff up!» says the website. «So while they can be entertaining and helpful in many ways, they can also recommend a song that doesn’t exist or provide links to false evidence to support their claims.»
Gardner said that parasocial relationships are usually healthy, unless they start to affect relationships in the real world. She encourages people with a «huge social appetite» to «do it» on platforms like character.ai.
However, he noted, this type of platform «could become a problem» if people spend more time on it than «we might spend with the actual people we’re connected to and looking after us.»
Beyond using the platform as a surrogate for real relationships, Kuhlor noted another concern: that the AI could be used by followers who want to go after a perceived enemy of their favorite star.
In a conflict where the internet feels compelled to take sidessome passionate fans may use the machine learning behind a celebrity AI to make the AI say harmful things or behave badly towards other users as a way to prove that person is «bad» or «wrong».
“What makes fan and supporter culture so great, in terms of how sophisticated they are and how powerful they can be, is also, to me, what makes it a little scary,” Kuhlor said.
He suggested that some celebrities might be wary of these platforms in the future. While the AI »can probably do the best it can, it may not always reflect the real deal, especially when they have nuanced shots,» she said, referring to famous people.
A Character.ai spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Ultimately, the innovation will not replace a real interaction between a fan and their favorite celebrity or public figure, no matter how realistic the interactions may appear in character.ai.
«Characters are good at pretending to be real, that means mimicking how humans talk,» Character.ai even states on its website. «You’re still talking to the character.»