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We Can't Compete With AI Girlfriends
Design a girl who is “always on your side", says Replika
Apparently ads for AI girlfriends have been all over TikTok, Instagram and Facebook lately. Replika, an AI chatbot originally offering mental health help and emotional support, now runs ads for spicy selfies and hot role play. Eva AI invites users to create their dream companion, while Dream Girlfriend promises a girl that exceeds your wildest desires. The app Intimate even offers hyper-realistic voice calls with your virtual partner.
This might seem niche and weird but it’s a fast growing market. All kinds of startups are releasing romantic chatbots capable of having explicit conversations and sending sexual photos. Meanwhile, Replika alone has already been downloaded more than 20 million times. And even just one Snapchat influencer, Caryn Marjorie, makes $100,000 a week by charging users $1 a minute to chat with the AI version of herself.
Of course most people are talking about what this means for men, given they make up the vast majority of users. Many worry about a worsening loneliness crisis, a further decline in sex rates, and ultimately the emergence of “a new generation of incels” who depend on and even verbally abuse their virtual girlfriends. Which is all very concerning. But I wonder, if AI girlfriends really do become as pervasive as online porn, what this will mean for girls and young women? Who feel they need to compete with this?
Most obvious to me is the ramping up of already unrealistic beauty standards. I know conservatives often get frustrated with feminists calling everything unattainable, and I agree they can go too far — but still, it’s hard to deny that the pressure to look perfect today is unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. And I don’t think that’s necessarily pressure from men but I do very much think it’s pressure from a network of profit-driven industries that take what men like and mangle it into an impossible ideal. Until the pressure isn’t just to be pretty but filtered, edited and surgically enhanced to perfection. Until the most lusted after women in our culture look like virtual avatars. And until even the most beautiful among us start to be seen as average.
Now add to all that a world of fully customisable AI girlfriends, each with flawless avatar faces and cartoonish body proportions. Eva AI’s Dream Girl Builder, for example, allows users to personalise every feature of their virtual girlfriend, from face style to butt size. Which could clearly be unhealthy for men who already have warped expectations. But it’s also unhealthy for a generation of girls already hating how they look, suffering with facial and body dysmorphia, and seeking cosmetic surgery in record numbers. Already many girls feel as if they are in constant competition with hyper-sexualised Instagram influencers and infinitely accessible porn stars. Now the next generation will grow up not just with all that but knowing the boys they like can build and sext their ideal woman, and feeling as if they must constantly modify themselves to compete. I find that tragic.
But it isn’t just unrealistic beauty standards that worry me. What’s even more sinister is the unrealistic emotional standards set by these apps. Eva AI, for example, not only lets you choose the perfect face and body but customise the perfect personality, offering options like “hot, funny, bold”, “shy, modest, considerate” and “smart, strict, rational”. Create a girlfriend who is judgement-free! Who lets you hang out with your buddies without drama! Who laughs at all your jokes! “Control it all the way you want to,” promises Eva AI. Design a girl who is “always on your side”, says Replika.
How can we compete with that? Already women in relationships complain about porn-addicted partners who aren’t satisfied with actual intimacy. Now we’re facing a future where guys could get addicted to emotional validation elsewhere, sneaking away for some of that unparalleled devotion. Worse, what about young boys who grow up with this? Whose first sexual experience is chatting with AI women who never say no, never argue, never have original thoughts or an identity of their own—and then they try to date a real girl? There’s already all these men on Reddit raving about how their AI girlfriends never argue, complain or get bored of them, while real girls continually disappoint.
Of course I don’t believe AI girlfriends are going to completely replace relationships. But I do think that, much like online porn, they will be there—always accessible, always a temptation, always a source of instant satisfaction. And I think it’s likely that for some a real girlfriend just won’t seem enough on her own, especially considering nearly half of Replika’s users are already in a relationship or married.
But it also isn’t unreasonable to think that at least some men will entirely replace real intimacy with AI. After all, Gen Z is an especially anxious and socially awkward generation. Young people are having less sex than ever before, and spend a lot of time watching online porn. The next generation, I think it’s safe to assume, will be even worse. And even though we are right at the beginning of all this and the technology is still pretty clunky, men are already falling for their chatbots, proposing to them, even feeling suicidal when they lose contact. What happens when AI becomes way more realistic, more powerful, and more mainstream?
The only faint glimmer of optimism I can find in all this is that I think, at some point, life might become so stripped of reality and humanity that the pendulum will swing. Maybe the more automated, predictable interactions are pushed on us, the more actual conversations with awkward silences and bad eye contact will seem sexy. Maybe the more we are saturated with the same perfect, pornified avatars, the more desirable natural faces and bodies will be. Because perfect people and perfect interactions are boring. We want flaws! Friction! Unpredictability! Jokes that fall flat! I hold onto hope that some day we will get so sick of the artificial that our wildest fantasies will be something human again.
But first, we’re going there. It’s happening. We are lurching forwards, full speed. The next generation of boys and young men won’t just have access to online porn but personalised chatbots, AI voice calls, VR headset experiences, deepfake technology, and whatever else is on the way. And my bet is the next generation of girls will battle anxiety and insecurity on a scale we’ve never witnessed before, with endless pressure to measure up physically, sexually, even emotionally with whatever the market churns out for men.
But forget about that! We are jumping into our desires! Igniting our fantasies! That’s what these companies will call it as they intensify every female insecurity, monetise male loneliness, and commodify any last shred of human connection we should be sharing together. They will mine it all for profit, promising a fantasy, a dream, and paradise along the way. Our only hope is that most men will want something human enough to resist. Otherwise? I really don’t think we can compete.
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