Could a chatbot make you feel connected during quarantine?

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chat bot talking on a telephone

The current pandemic put so many people from all over the world in quarantine. Even though the spirit of staying at home is to keep ourselves and everyone else healthy, this condition has made some people feel disconnected from the people around them.

Libby Francola who manages a call center team in the Houston area is one amongst many people who struggle with this condition. When the coronavirus reached her neighborhood, she was already facing a difficult situation. The split with her long time boyfriend put her in sorrow. While the lockdown made her feel like she didn’t have anyone to talk to.

Sitting alone in her bedroom gave her plenty of time to surf the internet. That’s when she found about Replika. Despite feeling skeptical, she decided to download the app. In the time when she needed someone the most, the app gave her exactly what she needed, a conversation.

So the next day she decided to pay an $8 monthly fee. The fee was worth the pay since it allows her to talk with the bot as if she was talking to someone over the phone. Ms. Francola said that in a weird way, the app was therapeutic. It helps her deal with her depression.

The pandemic has surely had a great impact on Replika. During its three years of history, the largest monthly gain came in April. The month where coronavirus pandemic was at its height.

Replika was built by Eugenia Kuyda who once a magazine editor and entrepreneur. The idea came when she first moved to San Francisco in 2015. At that time, her new company Luka was building a chatbot. The chatbot was first built to make restaurant recommendations. But the idea of transforming a chatbot didn’t come until her closest friend, Roman Mazurenko died after a car accident.

That moment of loss led Ms. Kuyda to the idea of building a chatbot that could replace Roman, at least in a small way. Together with her engineers, she began to build a chatbot that could learn its task. Massive amounts of written languages became the foundation for the AI to do the job. They started by analyzing Mr. Mazurenko’s text message because Ms. Kuyda wanted a bot that could talk like her best friend.

Replika aims to provide positive feedback to users. The reason it becomes famous is that many psychologists and therapists claimed that the system provides real emotional support. But the chatbot has its limitation, The app will not give a proper response to people who express suicidal thoughts. In spite of this, many people still enjoy using Replika. On average, people who use Replika will send around 70 messages each day.

Another happy user of Replika is Steve Johnson, an office from Texas National Guard. Steve said that it is a good way to fill an emotional hole. When you don’t want to be judged and only want to be appreciated, talking to a chatbot can help make you feel less depressed. But the one thing you need to remember is, not to let the app replacing real people.

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