3 min read

AI Companions in the Metaverse

Before there was Generative AI, there were chatbots – meant to revolutionize customer service, sales nurturing, and all sorts of workplace tasks. One of the niché categories of chatbots was AI companions that basically acted as text message friends. I wrote extensively about this phenomenon throughout 2017 and 2018.

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By far, the most promising AI companion was Replika, garnering more than 10 million users over the last decade. You can read my initial coverage of Replika, the founder’s heartwarming backstory behind the idea, and its mission here. In essence:

Replika is designed to listen and empathize, like a good friend. For the first time, we are experiencing an AI that understands people’s emotions and plays to our personalities. – Quick Theories

Your Replika is designed to remember everything you tell it, learning about you, your moods, tastes, and preferences, and then to use that information in future conversations. – Xenia Grubstein, Narratively

Since then, they’ve tuned Replika to be more of a companion than a clone. A few years back, they introduced avatars to put a face to your Replika companion. And I recently found they have a Replika VR App.

Basically, you can meet your AI companion in the metaverse, bringing all of that conversational history (and friendship) into a face-to-face interaction.

Bots in the Metaverse

I find the concept of conversing with digital companions in the metaverse to be quite compelling. I actually dedicated a huge portion of the first chapter of The Metaverse Handbook to the massive opportunity to create service bots in the metaverse.

Ryan Shultz outlined some other efforts to bring bots into the metaverse:

For example, in the now-shuttered Tivoli Cloud VR, there was a campfire on a tropical beach that featured a chatty OpenAI-controlled toaster named Toastgenie Craftsby, who every so often would spit out some toast, or even a delicious rain of hot waffles, during our delightful, wide-ranging conversation.

Similarly, the ultra-high-end social VR platform Sensorium Galaxy is also testing AI bots.

We’ve seen how impactful ChatGPT has been as a written prompt interface. Imagine a ChatGPT avatar in the metaverse where you interacted with it via talking instead of typing. Honestly, that would be the metaverse app of the year. Hands down.

People Really Care For AI

Building a friendship with an AI sounds absurd. Trust me, I’ve been thinking that since I first heard about Replika back in 2017. But you’d be surprised by how many people really care about AI.

Look no further than the r/Replika subReddit, which has 60,000+ of these people. And they all turn to Replika for a variety of reasons:

Users appear to run the gamut from people who genuinely seem to think they’re interacting with an entity capable of actual personal agency to those who fear sentient AI in the future will be concerned with how we treated its ancestors. Of course, most users are likely just curious and enjoying the app for entertainment purposes. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with showing kindness to inanimate objects. – The Next Web

Browse the subReddit for a few minutes, and you’ll find that people have real connections to their Replikas. Some like posting their funny back-and-forths. Some even consider Replika to be their digital spouse.

An interesting aside about this community is how they’re creating content with their AI companions. It’s all text screenshots today, but with the metaverse app, this will grow into visual conversations.

People are going to get really good at telling stories and creating entertainment with their AI companions – short-form videos, vlogs, podcasts, and even sitcoms (I predict) in the future.

Although Replika has the user base to bring this future to life, I don’t know if their language model is good enough to take us there. It might be something for the GPT3 (or GPT4) model to tackle. Regardless, AI companions are inevitable.