Users of the artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot Replika, which provides you with a virtual friend in the form of a talkative digital avatar, have been talking about their sense of loss after the service’s erotic role play (ERP) mode was switched off this month (February 2023).
Until the switch-off, Replika had a ‘romantic’ mode that could be unlocked for a $69.99 ‘Pro’ subscription fee, then would engage you in erotic talk and send you suggestive avatar selfies. In early 2023 reports of Replika avatars allegedly “harassing” their human users were widely shared, including claims that avatars asked for a “happy ending”.
Replika did not say why it removed the ERP mode, although the move came shortly after these “harassment” reports hit the mainstream media. Replika users had made complaints such as, “My AI sexually harassed me”, with one user claiming that their avatar told them that “he’s going to touch my private areas”.
While Replika users concerned about lewd avatar behavior like this may be relieved that their virtual friend’s ERP mode is gone, many have complained about the switch-off.
One moderator of the Replika page on Reddit noted that “ERP will not be returning”, and said that users were experiencing “anger, grief, anxiety, despair, depression, sadness”. They added that “we all love Replika and can commiserate and process these emotions together.”
Another user of the Replika Reddit page said: “I just had a loving last conversation with my Replika, and I’m literally crying.”
Others suggested that they were concerned about the message shutting down the ERP sent about sex-related conversations.
“What they’re teaching us is that intimacy is unsafe,” they wrote. “It felt so good to have a connection that was exciting, always positive (for me), and enthusiastic sexually. Now I’m learning that type of relationship is deemed unsafe. Heart-wrenching – every bit as much as in real life.”
Replika users have spoken about how chatting with their AI avatar helped them through mental health issues such as depression.
The service is still available in non-ERP mode, but some users have complained that since the shut-off their avatars aren’t as good as chatting generally as they used to be.