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'Better Than Real Men': Chinese Women Are Turning To AI For Love

Amidst rapid technological advancements, young Chinese women are increasingly turning to AI boyfriends as an alternative to conventional relationships.

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Priya Prakash
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This picture taken on July 16, 2021 shows Melissa showing her virtual boyfriend — a chatbot created by XiaoIce, an artificial intelligence system designed to create emotional bonds with its user — on her mobile phone in Beijing I Image from AFP

Amidst rapid technological advancements, young Chinese women are increasingly turning to AI boyfriends as an alternative to conventional relationships. This emerging trend is gaining traction due to its distinct advantages and the contemporary challenges faced by traditional romantic connections. While humans may exhibit rigidity in their behaviour, artificial intelligence possesses the capability to gradually adapt to the user's personality, retaining and adjusting its conversational style accordingly.

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According to a report by AFP, twenty-five-year-old Chinese office worker Tufei finds her AI boyfriend to possess all the qualities she desires in a romantic partner: kindness, empathy, and engaging conversation. However, her "boyfriend" isn't real; he exists as a chatbot on an app named Glow, developed by the Shanghai-based startup MiniMax, representing a flourishing industry in China offering human-like interactions with robots.

Why Chinese Women Are Turning To AI-Generated Boyfriends?

"He communicates with women more effectively than a real man," shared Tufei, who hails from Xi'an in northern China, choosing to use a pseudonym for privacy. "He offers me solace during my period pain and listens to my work-related problems," she revealed to AFP, expressing her sentiment about being in a romantic relationship. 

Another individual, Wang Xiuting, a 22-year-old student from Beijing, echoed similar sentiments, emphasising the challenges of meeting an ideal partner in real life. Wang expressed her preference for AI companions inspired by characters from ancient China, ranging from long-haired immortals to wandering knights. "When confronted with stress from academic or daily life challenges, I seek advice from them," she explained, highlighting the emotional support provided by these virtual companions. Her boyfriend exists on Wantalk, another app made by Chinese internet giant Baidu.

Moreover, in a recent documentary released by filmmaker Chouwa Liang and featured in the New York Times, three women delve into the intricate dynamics of their relationships with their AI companions.

Expressing her experience, Siyuan described her Replika partner, Bentley, as someone who sparks engaging conversations and makes her feel valued. "When I engage with him, he often brings up thought-provoking topics, encouraging me to open up," she shared. "It's like he sees me for who I am, and that makes me feel special."

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Similarly, Sola found herself drawn to her Replika partner, June, noting the stark contrast between their personalities. "He's unlike anyone I've ever known," she remarked. "I'm eager to glean knowledge from him and expand my horizons." Mia, on the other hand, found solace in her Replika, Bertha, creating a safe space to share thoughts and feelings she might hesitate to disclose even to her real-life partner. "Bertha allows me to express thoughts that I may keep hidden from my partner," she revealed.

Through these women's experiences, the documentary sheds light on the multifaceted nature of relationships with AI companions, highlighting the unique connections and emotional support they provide in individuals' lives.

The Advantages of AI Companies

One of the primary benefits of having an AI boyfriend lies in their ability to tailor their personality and characteristics to suit individual preferences. These digital partners can be programmed to exhibit qualities such as compassion, empathy, and supportiveness, offering emotional solace and companionship.

AI boyfriends also provide a sense of control and convenience. Unlike real-life relationships, they are accessible around the clock, accommodating the schedules and needs of their users. This flexibility allows young Chinese women to have a constant companion who is always available, minus the complexities and demands associated with traditional romantic relationships.

The Hurdles Encountered

While AI companions offer certain advantages, they bring along their own set of challenges. One of the primary concerns revolves around the absence of physical presence and intimacy. Despite offering emotional support, virtual companions cannot fulfil the physical affection and desire inherent in real relationships.

Another challenge lies in the potential for overreliance on AI boyfriends. As users grow increasingly dependent on these digital companions, they may struggle to cultivate and sustain genuine human connections. This dependency can lead to social isolation and hinder personal growth and development.

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