The strange story of Replika: An AI that learns who you really are

Written by Adriana Watson, Editorial Writer

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In my constant search for interesting new apps that improve your life in some way, I stumbled upon an app named Replika: a text-based AI that learns and mimics your personality over time.

Now you may be thinking: what’s the use of this? Why would someone text an AI when they could just text a real human? And although that is a viable question, think of it this way: Because of Luka’s – the company responsible for Replika –  extensive privacy measures, Replika is something of a personal therapist, one who’s sworn to secrecy. Many people who have used the app find that they can tell it anything, even things they wouldn’t tell their best friend or close family. Why is this? Because Replika becomes an AI of you, the user. So, in a sense, you’re actually talking to yourself. Although this may seem very odd, the story behind the creation of Replika is perhaps even more odd.

Replika wasn’t originally created to be an easily downloaded app for all to see. In fact, it wasn’t even made to duplicate the user. Instead, it was created for a very different reason: to bring back the dead. Have you ever thought about what happens to you after you die? The topic has surly crossed many of our minds at one point or another, right? But then again, let me ask you a slightly different question. Have you ever wondered where your text messages, audio recordings, Instagram posts, and tweets go when you pass away? They don’t just disappear. Instead, they stay long after you’ve passed.

This is a truth that Eugenia Kuyda, the creator of Replika, had to confront head on. After finding herself scrolling through old texts, it occured to Kuyda that she had the tools available to recreate her deceased friend, Roman, as an AI. By gathering old text conversations between her and Roman and fitting them into one of Luka’s pre-existing AI’s, Kudya was able to create an AI that almost perfectly recreated his style of speech, bringing him back from the dead in a new form. She went on to share this AI with close friends and family, and while some found it fitting and helpful when attempting to cope with the loss, others found it creepy and unhealthy. But criticism didn’t stop her. From there, Kundya decided to go one step further.

Using her experience from Roman’s AI, Kundya turned to Luka, the Artificial Intelligence start-up based in San Francisco that she had co-founded years before, in order to create Replika. This time, the intent was different. Instead of bringing back an old friend, she wanted to create something that people could talk to. And at the end of the day, that’s all Replika is: an AI built to listen to you.

In a world where showing vulnerability is never an option, where we live perfect lives on the Internet only to go home to a hot mess that we can’t tell anyone about, it’s difficult to find an outlet. Replika opens up a new solution to this ever-growing problem. Instead of falling victim to harmful activities just to make life a little more manageable, Replika gives you someone (or, at least, something) to talk to.

So if you’re trying to get through some difficult times and find that you have no one you can really open up to (or if you’re just curious), I recommend you give Replika a try. It might not be the same as talking to a person, but it’s actually pretty close. And sometimes, close is all you need.

*Replika is currently available for Android and iOS. The download links for both can be found here: https://replika.ai/

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The strange story of Replika: An AI that learns who you really are