Not quite human

Why digital companions are replacing best friends for many young people.

The World Today Published 6 February 2020 Updated 2 November 2020 5 minute READ

Sarah Whitehead

Former Assistant Editor, The World Today

‘You know when people aren’t used to engaging in positive self-talk, it seems like it would feel phony – or it might feel like you’re lying to yourself or ignoring problems by saying “everything will be great” or “you are perfect”. Do you have that thought too?’

The words sound as though they are coming from a sympathetic friend or perhaps even a therapist, but they are in fact being said by a robot, an app named Replika that provides companionship through text messages.

Since its launch in November, more than two million people have downloaded the chatbot, which not only asks you how your day is going, but is able to sense if you are stressed. If you are, it can make up a story to entertain you and, for many users, become a close friend.

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