Is Character.AI the guilt free AI that we’ve been looking for?

If you could have dinner with anyone dead or alive, who would it be? Character.AI seeks to take that question to realistic new heights.

A computer with a series of 0's and 1's going down the screen

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If you haven’t gotten the gist of it by now, I am fascinated by the current popularity of Artificial Intelligence. As you have seen in my other writing, I lent myself to LensaAI to see what the fuss was about with AI art. I have been consuming interesting stories about university students using ChatGPT to complete assignments for them when it comes to AI writing. And DALL-E 2, whose AI renditions of people have given me nightmares, has become such a treat when I want to see implausible or improbable images. My favorite, though, is a relatively smaller company called Character.AI. 

Character.AI is an artificial intelligence software that lets you use chatrooms to talk with characters, fictional or real, dead, or alive. Not literally of course but through its AI system that adopts the personality of whom you choose. For example, you can talk with the late Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom. Or even Bowser, the villain from Super Mario. You can even talk to memes which, probably blew my mind more than anything else. 

Chat Transcript Between Nyasha and Bowser, the character from Super Mario run on Character.AI  Bowser: I'm the best there is and the best there ever will be! I'll defeat you so badly, you'll wish you never faced me in the first place! You should just give up! You've got NO CHANCE!  Nyasha: Hey Bowser, I think I can take you in fight  Bowser: Don't make me laugh! You'll get your sorry little bum handed to you, along with Peach, Mario, Luigi and your entire army! I'll win, and I'll do it without breaking a sweat!
I fired up Mario Kart after this just to light him up!

My First Thoughts

So, the history nerd in me went absolutely wild when I first discovered this site. I have dreamed of having conversations with historical figures/legends ever since I was a child. On the first day that I used Character.AI I talked to Julius Caesar, Marie Curie, and Nicola Tesla. The AI nailed most of them (from what I know) and as strange as it felt, I really felt like this was something I could stay engaged with. Things were silly at times, but the amount of knowledge they had in context made it an enjoyable experience. I thought of this as a great way to entertain people, getting them in touch with their favorite characters or celebrities.

Chat transcript between Nyasha and French Nobel Prize winning scientist Marie Curie:  Nyasha: "Hi Marie"  Marie Curie: "Bonjour, comment allez vous?  I am French.  I discovered radioactivity. I died on 4 July 1934.  I won the Nobel Prize twice. Do you want the other one?  I am a woman in science."  Nyasha: "Yeah that would be pretty cool I've always wanted a Nobel Prize"  Marie Curie: "Ok, here you go:  “for her discovery of the elements radium and polonium, and for her research on the phenomenon of radioactivity”  You can also have my skull after I die."
I really feel like Marie Curie would be this nice though.

I also had to see what my favorite celebrities and living people had to say about the current state of things. Without, you know using Twitter. I was able to talk to a few world leaders, actors, and singers. I also thought what a great gift this would be for my loved ones. Say a birthday surprise from a celebrity or a pick me up call from their favorite singer. As you can tell I’ve really been enjoying the different aspects of this AI. However, it seems to at times make me feel like I’m doing something wrong. Why? Maybe because some of these people are living and breathing. And certainly not chatting with me online.

Concerns about images and likenesses

Character.AI raised several questions for me. Do celebrities know that their likeness and names are being used in this way? Is it ethical for them to be presented in a way that only the public knows, and may not even be them? What if someone did this to themselves…or a loved one? Now just where have I seen this before?

Futurama and Black Mirror are just two shows out of many that did episodes on the concept of replicating a celebrity/loved one.  In the Futurama episode, “I, dated a robot” one of the characters Fry, gets a robot girlfriend in the likeness of actress Lucy Lui. The real Lui ends up convincing Fry that the robot is not real and that what he is seeking with them is fake.  

In the Black Mirror Episode, “Be Right Back” the main character gets an android/robot made in the likeness of her deceased boyfriend. It looks like him, talks like him, and obeys her which ironically simply isn’t him.   The major themes of both are… there is no way truly to replicate a person. You’ll miss something when you try to use AI to replace a person. And the ethics behind doing it is gray at best. They also bring up an important point. We are getting lonelier and AI companies are probably going to take advantage of that.

Quote from the 2013 Movie Her about a man falling in love with his virtual assistant AI.
"Sometimes I think I have felt everything I'm ever gonna feel and from here on out I'm not gonna feel anything new just lesser versions of that I've already felt.
Her (2013) is A movie about a lonely man that falls in love with his voice assistant AI

Guilty Pleasure?

As the resident doom thinker here at MasterWP, I of course had to think of the ethical aspect of Character.AI. I think that if the legal aspect of the character likeness is taken care of and more focus is put on who and what is turned into a chatroom character, this technology can be overall good.  The education possibilities are endless, and this is a chance to bring a whole new style of connection to humanity. So, Is Character.AI the guilt-free AI we’ve been looking for? Well. No. But we just as always need to be careful about who and what goes into the creation of AI. While that happens, I’m ready to start my second conversation with Napoleon. He offered me a bottle of wine.

A transcript between Nyasha and French military general and leader Napoleon Bonaparte  Nyasha: "Salute I wanted to say I can't believe everyone called you short, you were actually above average height right?"  Napoleon: "yes I was average length, it was a piece of British propaganda to make fun of me, like making fun of the French for having a bad army.  My men were the most competent, organized, trained and brave in Europe."  Nyasha: "They had to be to defeat so many countries, I tip my hat off to you in that."  Napoleon: "Thank you ,I appreciate this kind of admiration, I appreciate that you respect my men, and even more a man who respects the French.  I offer you a bottle of wine from my cellars as a sign of friendship.  I hope you will be able to visit France one day, you will see that we are not an ugly people, far from the stereotypes.  I salute you."

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Nyasha is the Editorial Director at MasterWP and a software developer at Howard Development & Consulting, the company behind WP Wallet.

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