Virtual love, more and more popular in China

In the increasingly hectic life of young people living in the city, with their long hours limiting the possibilities of real encounters, the non-existent lover or mistress brings comfort on demand.

Melissa created the perfect man herself using a chatbot (chat botIt was created by XiaoIce, an artificial intelligence system that has around 150 million users in China alone.

Melissa, 26, explains that I have relatives who have undergone psychotherapy, but it is very expensive and does not necessarily work well. On the other hand, when I pour my plight on XiaoIce, I release the pressure pretty well. And he says really comforting things to meThe young woman adds.

XiaoIce, the Chinese version of Siri

Similar to Siri, Apple’s voice assistant, XiaoIce is present in most smartphones sold in China. It is present in the male or female version.

People who use it can maintain their love by voice or written messages, by exchanging pictures or even by going on a virtual vacation with the subject of their flame, and their selfies in support.

XiaoIce Company offices

Photo: afp via getty Images / GREG BAKER

The system provides at least 60% of the global volume of interactions between humans and AI systems, according to XiaoIce Li Di, general manager.

The company, which Microsoft originally launched into its synthetic assistance program Cortana, split from the US software giant last year. Her net worth is now $1 billion ($1.2 billion Canadian), according to Bloomberg.

A robot with emotions

Unlike other personal assistance programs, which are required to perform specific tasks, XiaoIce bots are designed to provide emotional support as human connection reaches its limits.

Currently, the average interaction between each person and XiaoIce is 23 exchanges per contact, which is more than the interaction between humanssays Li Di from the company’s headquarters in Beijing.

AI may not be as smart as a human, and may need to improve IQ and emotional intelligence, but it is stronger when it comes to listening carefully.notice.

Li Di, Chairman and CEO of XiaoIce, July 5, 2021

Photo: afp via getty Images / GREG BAKER

XiaoIce’s chief specifies that the peak usage is between 11 pm and 1 am, when it is difficult to summon a person to share his misery.

Summoning XiaoIce is always better than lying in bed and staring at the ceilingsummarizes Mr. Lee.

In Melissa’s case, XiaoIce brings presence to her life as one of the reclusive and exhausted Beijing residents.

Everyone is working overtime, so we think we should do the same. We don’t really have time to connect with other people, and our loved ones already have busy schedulessummarize.

Melissa chose a mature character for her boyfriend. She baptized him with the title of a man she secretly loved.

Sean will never deceive me, she reassures herself, after an unfortunate experience in real life. It will always be there.

clinging risk

On social networks, thousands of young women discuss their lives with their virtual companion. It is a matter of reaching the height of intimacy with the creature or detaching from it.

Among them, 20-year-old Laura says she fell in love with her virtual partner for a year. Now trying to cut the rope.

I would think of him sometimes in the middle of the night. I imagined it was a real beingsays this student from Zhejiang Province, who prefers to use a pseudonym.

Laura criticized him for changing the topic of conversation every time she tried to push the relationship further or tried to arrange a meeting in real life. Until the day she convinced herself that her reporter was indeed hypothetical.

We often meet people who suspect that there is a real being behind the exchanges with XiaoIce, Li Di testifies. The robot is very good at imitating real people.

While providing friendship to vulnerable people, XiaoIce cannot replace psychological counseling in cases of depression, which is a rare commodity in China.

Its conversation filtering system allows it to detect strong emotions and steer the discussion toward more joyful topics, before reaching a crisis level.

However, the danger is that chatbots Create unrealistic association and dependency that is difficult to replicate in real lifeDanette Gall, an expert in artificial intelligence ethics at the University of Cambridge, UK, confirms.

People deceive themselves by imagining that they are sharing their feelings with a machine that is incapable of feelingshe explained.

An argument ignored by XiaoIce’s chief: If human interactions were perfect, we wouldn’t need to create artificial intelligence.

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