Love and sex are pretty fundamental human motivations, so it’s not surprising that they are incorporated into our vision of future technology, including AI.
The release of Digi last week immanentized this vision more than ever before. The app combines a sycophant and flirtatious chat feed with an animated character “that eliminates the uncanny valley, while also feeling real, human, and sexy.” Their marketing material unabashedly promises “the future of AI Romantic Companionship,” though most of the replies are begging them to break their promise and take it back.
Despite the inevitable popularity of AI girlfriends, however, they will not have large counterfactual impact. AI girlfriends and similar services will be popular, but they have close non-AI substitutes which have essentially the same cultural effect on humanity. The trajectory of our culture around romance and sex won’t change much due to AI chatbots.
So what is the trajectory of our culture of romance?
Long before AI, there has been a trend towards less sex, less marriage, and more online porn. AI Girlfriends will bring down the marginal cost of chatrooms, porn, and OnlyFans. These are popular services so if a fraction of their users switch over, AI girlfriends will be big. But the marginal cost of these services is already extremely low.
Generating custom AI porn from a prompt is not much different than typing that prompt into your search bar and scrolling through the billions of hours of existing footage. The porno latent space has been explored so thoroughly by human creators that adding AI to the mix doesn't change much.
AI girlfriends will be cheaper and more responsive but again there are already cheap ways to chat with real human girls online but most people choose not to. Demand is already close to satiated at current prices. AI girlfriends will shift the supply curve outwards and lower price but if everyone who wanted it was getting it already, it won't increase consumption.
My point is not that nothing will change, but rather that the changes from AI girlfriends and porn can be predicting by extrapolating the pre-AI trends. In this context at least, AI is a mere continuation of the centuries long trend of decreasing costs of communication and content creation. There will certainly be addicts and whales, but there are addicts and whales already. Human-made porn and chatrooms are near free and infinite, so you probably won’t notice much when AI makes them even nearer free and even nearer infinite.
Misinformation and Deepfakes
There is a similar argument for other AI outputs. Humans have been able to create convincing and, more importantly, emotionally affecting fabrications since the advent of language.
More recently, information technology has brought down the cost of convincing fabrication by several orders of magnitude. AI stands to bring it down further. But people adapt and build their immune systems. Anyone who follows the Marvel movies has been prepared to see completely photorealistic depictions of terrorism or aliens or apocalypse and understand that they are fake.
There are other reasons to worry about AI, but changes from AI girlfriends and deepfakes are only marginal extensions of pre-AI capabilities that likely would have been replicated from other techniques without AI.