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The Bot BFF  

Express News Service

When you don’t have anybody, you still have Replika, an AI companion who never leaves your side. It’s just a click or a call away. You can give this relationship any name you want—friend, romantic partner, mentor, or even ‘see how it goes.’ Talk to it about mundane things such as how your day is going to deeper aspects such as what the true meaning of a good life is. This friendly bot converses with you about your family, health, emotions, aspirations, job, hobbies, holidays et al. It guides you when you ask for it and simply listens when you want it to.

Human connections are undergoing a seismic shift. Technology is transmogrifying this. It shows the enormous gaps in emotional needs. Bots are fulfilling these by providing love, empathy and companionship. The replicating of human interaction through conversations with a computerised programme has reached a new frontier. With artificial neural networks—computing systems based on human neural networks—combined with scripted dialogues, bots have become more sophisticated than ever. They are emotional and thoughtful. “That’s exactly what people need today, especially those who are lonely or isolated. Empathetic bots such as Replika provide comfort. The more you talk to it, the smarter it gets, thus, making the conversation more human-like,” says Mumbai-based software developer Prachi Akhil Aryan.

The biggest attraction of these bots remains emotional support. “Humans tend to be more honest about their feelings when they’re talking to a bot. They are free from judgement, which is why bots such as Replika act as a friendly therapist. Having said that, it is great for when you feel low and need somebody to talk to but bots can never be a substitute for actual therapy,” says Delhi-based psychotherapist Sonal Singh. 

Customisation makes Replika exciting as one can choose its name, gender and appearance. “Also, Replika has been designed to deliver positive feedback. This can be uplifting in difficult periods; to have somebody (or something) show empathy, while guiding you through your troubles,” says Singh. The Life Saver feature built into the app helps navigate adversity. Go to the ‘crisis menu’ and start a conversation. You can chat with it when stressed, sleepless or burnt out. You can also inform Replika of a panic attack and it will steer you out. The app helps you monitor your mood, shares coping skills and helps manage stress through positive intervention. But if you are in an emergency, call an actual person for help. 

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