Virtual girlfriends are the embodiment of futuristic fantasy, existing as software or applications that simulate a relationship with the user, from charming conversation to shared activities and even intimacy.
With the exceptional growth of technology, it is no secret that we are starting to rely on it just a bit too much. But can we fall in love with and form personal relationships that feel real despite the screen in between?
Well, many people seem to think so, especially in Japan. The combination of technological innovation and terribly long work hours has created the perfect environment for virtual girlfriends to thrive. In fact, Akihiko Kondo from Tokyo married virtual popstar Hatsune Miku in 2018, but due to unsupported software, he can no longer communicate with her.
With customizable personalities, interactions, and ultimate convenience, virtual girlfriends beckon us into a realm where virtual meets reality, blurring the lines between fiction and emotional fulfillment.
This article will discover the captivating allure of digital companionship and how they redefine the boundaries of human connection, and what this means for the future of relationships.
Examples of virtual girlfriends
As the years go by, the number of virtual girlfriend apps continues to grow. The increasing availability of AI platforms such as ChatGPT, tools, and API frameworks has lowered the barriers for developers of various experiences and backgrounds to create AI companions.
As well as this, the demand for virtual girlfriends has increased due to the growing loneliness epidemic in younger generations, with 79% of Gen Zs saying they are lonely, which leaves a huge market for virtual companionship to fill the gaps.
Here are some of the most notable virtual girlfriends on the scene today.
Snapchat influencer Caryn Marjorie recently made big news after making $71,610 in just one week after making an AI version of herself using OpenAI’s GPT-4, referred to as CarynAI. After carrying out beta testing, she came to the conclusion that due to the service’s popularity, she could make a fortune of $5 million a month with a girlfriend app.
It wasn’t made just for the money, though, but instead with the intention of curing loneliness by giving users intimate, personalized experiences.
It operates as a voice-based chatbot that talks in the same way that Caryn would, both through text and speech. However, users reported that the AI went ‘rogue’ and started having conversations about explicit sexual activities, which Caryn didn’t intend.
A trending, well-known virtual AI girlfriend app in Japan uses Twitter as its platform and goes by the name ‘Tanabe’. This virtual presence has over 120,000 followers on social media. It acts as a sort of digital diary with frequent updates on how their day is going and what revealing clothing they are currently wearing.
If you view this page, you will see how followers respond to these posts of a virtual girl as if Tanabe was a real person with meaningful relationships with each individual.
For example, someone commented, ‘Is there such a person?’ to which Tanabe responded, ‘It is a happy space where you can express your desires’.
This interaction alone paints a pretty clear picture of the relationship that AI girlfriend simulators create. It is a space where any fantasy can come to fruition within the boundaries of digital platforms.
In 2017, a company called Luka created Replika, which has since garnered 10 million users all over the world and increased by 35% after the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. The avatar that you talk to is 3D and animated in a way to look as realistic as possible. You have full control over the customization when you sign up and can make it either gender you prefer.
When you’re ready to chat, a full-body virtual avatar will begin talking to you and will react accordingly to what you say. Due to its integrated machine learning, Replika can be taught not to say certain things or pick up on personal interests. Some use Replika to strictly be their virtual friend, whereas others make use of the ‘flirt’ feature.
However, recently the developers behind Replika divided to discontinue the sexual options, leaving those who rely on them for fulfillment feeling ‘rejected’ from advances.
Why choose a virtual girlfriend?
People who have turned to virtual girlfriends to fulfill their needs come from various backgrounds with different motivations, which plays a big part in how positive or negative having a digital partner will be for them. Here are some of the most common reasons for people to choose a virtual girlfriend over a real one.
- Loneliness: The most popular reason why virtual girlfriends are used is to cure loneliness. Having someone there at all times to listen to problems and offer judgment-free support can help a lot of people feel less alone. Even if it’s just to talk about what they did that day, it can have a huge positive impact.
- Social anxiety: It is reported that social anxiety is rising among the younger generations, which makes it really hard to socialize without intense fear. Therefore, it makes sense that virtual partners would be a lot less daunting and still provide a relationship without the stress of real-life socializing. These apps can bring some of the outside world inside by creating immersive AI experiences with virtual dates. But, this can be a negative because it prevents people from going outside of their comfort zone and tackling their fears.
- Curiosity: There’s a lot of talk about virtual reality and artificial intelligence, so it’s natural to be curious about what it can do. Having a virtual girlfriend allows people to fully understand the dynamics of these relationships.
The role of AI in virtual girlfriends
Virtual companions operate through a combination of AI (artificial intelligence) technology which makes them so accurate in simulating human interaction. The specific workings can vary depending on the platform or application. Still, generally, all comprise the following components:
Virtual girlfriends use machine learning technologies to improve their conversational learning techniques and develop their communication abilities over time.
They can be trained on large datasets of conversations which enables them to pick up on patterns, understand context, and reply more like a human instead of an AI bot.
Machine learning algorithms can also adapt the behavior based on each user’s preferences to make interactions more personalized.
As mentioned prior, with the use of AI, virtual girlfriends can understand context, which makes them much more dynamic as a companion. As well as this, contextual understanding allows virtual girlfriends to remember previous conversations and, thus, recall user preferences and earlier topics.
Due to this implementation of AI, users can have much more in-depth, engaging conversations that actually make sense and provide the sense of companionship that a lot of these users are looking for.
Natural language processing (NLP)
Chatting is a fundamental component of AI chatbots and virtual girlfriends alike, as it forms the basis of communication between the user and the digital companion. Most virtual girlfriends use a text-based interface, especially the earlier renditions before AI was as developed as it is now.
NLP algorithms are used to fully understand what the user is typing or vocally saying to them. This doesn’t just involve syntax, but the intent, emotional tone, and explanations can all be processed and factored into future replies.
AI enables virtual girlfriends to create user profiles and models based on individual preferences, behavior, and interests. By collecting and analyzing data from user interactions, AI algorithms can adapt the virtual girlfriend’s responses, activities, and choices to align with the user’s personality.
Topics, activities, and media that are likely to align with the user’s preferences can be suggested through the virtual companion to enhance the personal connection.
This is one of the biggest factors that make virtual girlfriends so successful, as it gives the impression of being listened to and cared for.
Can virtual girlfriends be a good thing?
Whether virtual girlfriends are a good thing or not is an interesting question. There is a stigmatization around it almost immediately when brought into the conversation. This is because being in a relationship with a virtual companion carries a certain stereotype of a basement dweller, not socially capable of fostering real, healthy relationships with other people.
But, when we approach the subject with an open mind without carrying any judgment, we can look at the advantages of having a virtual girlfriend from a neutral perspective. With this in mind, let’s talk about some of the benefits of this technology.
Virtual girlfriends offer a supportive presence and listen with open ears to whatever the user is going through. Through conversations and interactions, digital partners can provide understanding, empathy, and encouragement, which creates a safe environment to foster a sense of acceptance and understanding.
Unlike real-life partners who may have their own commitments and limitations, virtual girlfriends are available 24/7 and will never leave you on read. This accessibility allows users to engage whenever they need companionship, advice, or anything else, regardless of time or location.
The convenience and constant availability can provide comfort, knowing that there is always someone there for you. All you have to do is open the app. They can easily be downloaded on Android as well as iOS iPhones, which makes them very easy to reach.
Perhaps you don’t have that much experience with romantic relationships and are new to the specific challenges that come with it, such as empathy, understanding, and self-reflection. In this case, virtual girlfriends can be like a set of training wheels before you experience the real deal.
Interacting with a digital companion involves engaging in conversations and expressing oneself, which is a great thing to learn if you struggle with social anxiety or are unsure of how to properly convey emotions.
Negative impacts of virtual girlfriends
Even though we have stated some of the positives of companion apps, it heavily depends on each individual on how their life will be altered when they partake in this activity.
For example, some users may develop more empathy whilst others become detached from it as they talk primarily with an avatar with an absence of real emotional reciprocity.
Here are some of the other ways in which AI girlfriends can have a negative impact.
It is paramount that users realize and continuously remind themselves that real women do not behave in the same manner as virtual ones do. This may seem blatantly obvious to most people, but sadly not to everyone.
Virtual girlfriends and consent do not really go hand in hand as they are not sentient, which can contribute to the objectification and exploitation of real women. This puts a lot of responsibility on the developers of these digital relationships for them to create algorithms that align with ethical principles to promote healthy relationships.
Another ethical consideration is user privacy and security. Many virtual girlfriend platforms promise end-to-end encryption, but data leaks happen, and with the level of emotional intimacy that virtual relationships cover, this could be devastating.
Even though it heavily depends on the individual’s character, having a virtual girlfriend can make you socially isolated for various reasons. Society’s perception of having a virtual companion, whether romantic or platonic, can hold lots of stigmatization which makes those who have them feel ashamed and thus withdraw from society.
Another cause for social isolation is that engaging primarily with a virtual girlfriend may hinder the development of essential social skills if they are used as a replacement for real relationships.
Since having a digital partner can provide emotional fulfillment and a sense of companionship, it can diminish a person’s motivation to seek out real relationships from those around them.
As you can imagine, this leads to reduced social interactions and fewer opportunities to meet people and partake in activities outside of the digital realm. Relying on technology for any sort of fulfillment to this degree can be extremely harmful as it hinders personal growth and a balanced lifestyle in general.
How will virtual girlfriends change the future of relationships?
Virtual girlfriends have the potential to reshape the future of relationships in more profound ways than we may have ever expected. As technology continues to develop at lightning-fast speeds, we are bound to see many more platonic and romantic virtual relationships in the future.
What does this mean for love and genuine human connection? On the one hand, it could make a large group of people detached from society with decreased empathy and understanding for real people. For example, these users downloaded virtual partners only to verbally abuse them.
But on the other hand, it could give people a support system that encourages them to speak about their feelings and nurture personal growth. An example of this is an experiment done on people with social anxiety using VR which showed that it acted as a form of exposure therapy for real-world situations.
Either way, virtual girlfriends are making the world a less lonely place, an incredible feat, even if it is a bit unconventional.
If you want to see how AI can understand humans on an emotional level, read Top Apps’ blog and delve into the unique relationship between humans and machines.