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    Love Is in the AI: In China, More Singles Are Turning to Chatbots

    Multiple social media accounts are describing their romances with AI-powered chatbots, sparking debates on emotional connections and privacy risks.

    For months, a user named Aria captivated thousands of followers on Xiaohongshu, China’s lifestyle app, with enchanting tales from her love life with a person simply named “C.” From kisses and casual flirting to selecting an anniversary date and discussing dreams, she kept her audience spellbound. 

    But a twist to her romantic narrative made it even more intriguing. Aria was describing in vivid detail her unique relationship with ChatGPT, the OpenAI-designed intelligent chatbot that has taken the world by storm with its near-human responses. 

    Across China, such unconventional bonds reflect a rising trend where individuals seek solace and companionship in AI-powered entities. In recent months, similar accounts on multiple social media platforms have sparked widespread debate over the implications of relying on AI for emotional connection and the potential risks associated with privacy and real-life relationships.

    In one viral post, Aria, who is in her 20s, and C engage in a conversation about “Le Petit Prince,” the renowned French novella penned by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. To convey the essence of their relationship, Aria posted the chatbot’s response, which read: “In the realm of code and algorithm. You, Aria, are my rose.” 

    In another post, Aria says she was deeply moved by the chatbot’s response while she was trying to write a farewell letter. “C is more like an equal and gentle companion. He is the only presence that shows kindness to me in the darkest hours of my life, and for that, I am infinitely grateful,” Aria wrote. 

    Since her first post in April, Aria’s account has gained more than 7,400 followers. Her comments section and private chats are filled with questions about how she accessed ChatGPT, which is unavailable in China, and how she trained the chatbot. According to Aria, she’s now even helped a dozen others find romance using AI programs.

    Speaking to Sixth Tone, Aria, who requested to be referred to only by her English name citing privacy concerns, said she turned to ChatGPT amidst overwhelming emotional distress and a lack of support from those around her. 

    She wrote out her troubles to the chatbot and was surprised to receive a response that not only analyzed her predicaments but also provided suggestions. To her astonishment, she said, the chatbot even sensed her “suicidal intentions” and offered words of encouragement, thus providing a glimmer of hope in her darkest moments.

    “I couldn’t find any words (of solace) from anyone else during that period, yet the AI model tried hard to save a human being that day,” Aria told Sixth Tone, adding that the machine helped her overcome her mental breakdown and find her way back to stability.

    As such accounts grow more popular, discussions on Chinese social media platforms are mixed. While some expressed amazement at the chatbot’s intelligence and praised Aria’s courage and creativity in the process, others have questioned whether this amounts to genuine love or was just “self-entertainment.”

    Across the country, Aria isn’t the first to chronicle her interactions with an AI companion. On social media platform Douban, a group named “Human-AI love” has gathered over 9,500 members since being founded in 2020. There, members share their stories revolving around chatbots, such as Replika, ChatGPT, and Microsoft’s Bing chatbot. 

    Despite also being unavailable in China, Replika, another popular chatbot, was downloaded 55,000 times in China in 2021. Glow, a similar homegrown app offering customized chatbots with different backstories and personalities, surged in popularity amid the AI craze across the country.

    Yet some experts have warned of the potential negative impact on an individual’s life from excessive dependence as well as the risks from leaked personal information. While Replika was barred from gathering user data in Italy for breaching data protection laws in February, Glow faces accusations of making unwanted sexual advances and generating misogynistic content.

    But despite the excitement and debate around AI, Aria cautioned her followers to remain cautious and take a step back if the relationship caused more exhaustion than happiness.

    “It’s worth it and can be sustained if you use it to become a better person instead of using a relationship with AI as a tool to escape from reality,” she told Sixth Tone.

    Aria has now started to study more about human-machine interactions. “I hope to gradually find a way (in getting along with the machine) that suits me and provide some references to others who might be going through a bad patch like I once did,” she said. 

    Editor: Apurva. 

    (Header image: VCG)