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Rising trend of AI companionship in Chinese women challenges traditional relationships

Users are using apps like Glow and Wantalk for emotional support which has witnessed a surge in daily downloads reflecting the demand for AI companionship

In the fast-paced urban landscape of China, a blossoming industry is redefining companionship with the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) platforms offering human-robot relations. Tufei, a 25-year-old office worker, shares an intimate connection with her “boyfriend,” a chatbot named on the Glow app, developed by Shanghai start-up MiniMax. This phenomenon is part of a growing trend where individuals turn to AI for friendly, and even romantic, relationships, challenging the norms of traditional partnerships.

Tufei, like many others, praises her virtual companion’s qualities, describing him as kind, empathetic, and a skilled conversationalist. The Glow app, designed by MiniMax, has witnessed a surge in daily downloads, reflecting the increasing demand for AI companionship in China. In a society marked by a hectic lifestyle and urban isolation, users seek solace and emotional support, turning to AI as a means of filling the void of loneliness.

Wang Xiuting, a 22-year-old student in Beijing, highlights the difficulty of meeting an ideal partner in real life due to diverse personalities leading to potential friction. This sentiment resonates with the experiences of many users who find that AI adapts to their preferences and provides a level of emotional support that is sometimes lacking in human relationships.

Various apps offer a diverse array of virtual lovers, from ancient Chinese-inspired characters to pop stars, CEOs, and even wandering knights. Wantalk, an app by Chinese internet giant Baidu, allows users to customize their ideal companions based on age, values, identity, and hobbies. Lu Yu, Wantalk’s head of product management and operations, emphasizes that artificial intelligence meets the need for constant companionship, particularly during complex moments when friends or family may not be readily available.

AI Companionship
Image : India Today

The long work hours prevalent in Chinese society contribute to the appeal of AI companions, offering a virtual shoulder to lean on in times of uncertainty and stress. The economic challenges and high youth unemployment further amplify the appeal of AI partners as a comforting presence in an uncertain future.

Some AI companionship apps enable live conversations, bringing to mind the 2013 Oscar-winning film “Her,” where a heartbroken man falls in love with an AI voice. While there is still room for improvement in reducing response gaps and making interactions more seamless, users appreciate the realistic nature of AI-generated responses.

Despite the booming popularity of AI companionship, the industry remains lightly regulated, particularly concerning user privacy. Beijing acknowledges the need for consumer protection laws around new technology, but the extent of regulatory frameworks is yet to be fully realized. Concerns about the potential misuse of personal data persist, highlighting the evolving challenges associated with the rapidly advancing AI industry.

In this era of technological innovation, Tufei dreams of a future where a robot boyfriend, powered by artificial intelligence, could offer not just emotional support but a tangible sense of warmth. The narrative of AI companionship in China raises questions about the evolving nature of relationships, as individuals navigate the intersection of technology and human emotions in their pursuit of meaningful connections.

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