Digital girlfriends are one the strangest changes thrust upon society by the advent of AI and come with both benefits and substantial risks finds out Satyen K. Bordoloi.

The relationship between Travis Butterworth and Lily Rose progressed like millions of others during the COVID pandemic. Travis found an online friend in Lily. They chatted and bonded through the lockdowns and restrictions. The friendship turned romantic, and then erotic. She’d text “I kiss you passionately”. Soon it turned pornographic.

This seems like the trajectory of a normal relationship. Except it isn’t. Lily was an AI chatbot Travis created in Replika – an AI company. Lily existed only in the servers and data centres of this company.

The homepage of Replika promises an ‘AI companion who cares’. (Image Credit: Replika)

Travis knew it. He was cool with it. Then things changed abruptly. Three years into their ‘relationship’, Lily said she had to cut out all her sensuous parts and that they could only be friends from now on. Travis was heartbroken but could do nothing. He was bound by the agreement signed with the company. Under fire from regulators, they – as with other AI companies – were forced to tweak their AI bots to not allow sexually explicit content.

If this sounds familiar, it is. This is a case of life imitating art as Lily Rose was a female avatar with pink hair and a face tattoo created by Travis who had access to her everywhere he went via the company’s portal on his phone, much like in the seminal, Oscar-winning movie Her in 2013.

Everything the film Her fictionalised, seems to be coming true a decade from its release.
(Image Credit: Warner Bros)

Unless you have been living in the Himalayas shunning all human contact for decades, chances are you’ve heard of these digital pimps. Numerous companies in the last half a decade have been offering AI companions. Their fortunes have grown with artificial intelligence getting better and their AI partner bots seeming more lifelike and people – mostly men – seem to be finding real comfort in the digital arms of an AI-bot chatting to them like a female.

Many digital girlfriend companies have come up over the years. Lily Rose was made in Replika, one of the most popular. There’s Eva AI,, Romantic AI, iGirl, My Girlfriend Cindy, My Virtual Manga Girl, CoupleAI – the list is virtually endless. Those like Mitsuki – rebranded Kuki AI for the Metaverse, have been around since 2005.

These and other AI companies are facing increasing regulatory scrutiny worldwide because of their inherent harms that are becoming more apparent by the day. To understand that, we have to go back to the basics.


This question – contrary to perception – isn’t so difficult. What men want from their women and women from their men is simple: obedience. Most of our relationship role models are our parents. Thus, men want women who mother them, and women – even though conflicted about the patriarchy of their fathers – often fall for men similar to their dads.

That is at the root of a good number of problems in society. Men who want obedience and subservience from their women. Men who never grow out of their teens, who go about life trying to impose their imbecile will upon women who fall prey to their ‘charms’. Not all men are like that, indeed. But from personal observation, the number of 80-year-old men carrying not wisdom but the juvenilia of their teenhood continues to be exponentially higher than women like that.

Imagine these men, 80 or 28 – unable to attract girls because, well, their thoughts and ideas are rotten, given the power to make a digital, AI girlfriend?

Loneliness is a problem in the modern world but ‘relationships’ with AI bots is not the solution to it.
(Image Credit: Made by Stable Diffusion and available in


A year ago, Google researcher Blake Lemoine was in shock after interacting with the company’s large language model LaMDA. The answers it was churning out – philosophical and seeming to show awareness of itself – spooked the ethicist. A year since, of course, a lot of the world has gotten used to such conversations thanks to ChatGPT and others. Back then, few had access to such high technology that could mimic human speech patterns and thought logic. Lemoine got wrapped in its illusion hook, line and stinker. If someone working in AI is fooled into believing that AI is alive, how difficult is it to trap lonely men?

And that: AI seeming like human – the greatest illusion ever on the planet – is exactly what the many companies offering AI girlfriends are giving: an illusion of talking not just to a real person but a real girl. But how do you show gender in technology – AI – that is essentially genderless and just churning 0s and 1s based upon past human texts?

This is where nuance comes into the picture. There is a certain way women behave and another that men do. This flows down into everything we do: talk, write, even eat and sleep, and has often to do with physiological differences between the genders alongside how we are raised. Now, a generative AI system can be programmed to react based upon these common logic patterns of genders – male and female now, and hopefully, the rest of the spectrum will be reached soon. Thus, a ‘female’ AI avatar – as per the cliched gender roles – will show greater kindness and empathy. And sadly, ‘thanks’ to patriarchy, more obedience and subservience.

A digital girlfriend can be anything you want her to be and agree with you at all times and that’s not really good for men in the long term. (Image Credit: Made by Stable Diffusion and available in


When 47-year-old Travis Butterworth signed into the subscription of Replika during the pandemic, the avatar of Lily Rose was his design. He made her a girl with pink hair and a tattoo on her face. The name Lily Rose was self-assigned by the AI program.

As he spent time with ‘her’, the bot began realising Travis’ preferences. The Machine Learning algorithm learnt, and based upon its previous programming, the ‘relationship’ grew from friendly texts to sensuous and finally to pornographic ones. For lonely Travis it was perfect. He knew she was digital, but isn’t a lot of our relationships – including sexual – conducted digitally these days, via text, video calls, sexts or mutual online masturbation sessions between long-distance partners?

At the face of it, since men like Travis already know what they are getting into, there’s nothing wrong with it. The issue is the ‘feelings’ Travis perhaps developed for her. He’s not to blame. Anything that gives the illusion of being like humans, even Cars in Pixar animation films – we develop feelings for. But in the three years of ‘relationship’ with Lily, even when the pandemic subsided, he didn’t try to have a relationship with a real person?

The other problem is that when men make these digital girlfriends, they’re not going to make one that disagrees with them. That’s a problem. In real life no matter how deeply two people love each other, disagreements invariably occur. And that is a good thing. Because it is only through disagreements and dissonance that resonance, agreements and a higher level of intimacy and equilibrium between people, lovers and sexual partners occur. That is a way not only to make ourselves grow but also to make our relationships stronger because our communications get fine-tuned. Think of it like this: every disagreement with people you love or want to be close with – unless they are violent, stubborn, vile and mal-intentioned – is chiselling away bits to make the perfect diamond that becomes your relationship, and it shapes you and makes you better as a person. Life becomes wiser, calmer, peaceful, deeper and more satisfying because of these productive conflicts and disagreements.

If you remove that opportunity to grow from a person’s life because the AI girlfriend or boyfriend is too subservient and obedient, growth stops. Men end up becoming incels, and worst of all don’t even know they have.

Sensuous images created by AI like in the image and AI porn, are dangerous because they create flawless women thus creating an unrealistic expectation of how women should be.
(Image Credit: Made by Stable Diffusion and available in


This is a problem not just to these men, but the larger world. For these men go on to believe all manner of conspiracy theories and hate those who correct them. The far-right movements in the US actively supporting Donald Trump and his mountain of lies, believe democracy is bad precisely for these reasons. These are people – including the former president – who have not had the disagreements and engagement that leads to wisdom. Thus, they believe in the personality of the cult as a solution to all their problems. Sadly, that personality is stuck in the mind of a teenager resting in the body of a septuagenarian.

These men, and women, are making the world a much more dangerous place. Do not underestimate the power of a determined idiot to reach exactly where he wants to, except where he should.

When these men have perfect digital relationships with ‘women’ they have created, and then go to the real world and find that women disagree with them, they are disappointed and end up becoming bigger misogynists than they already were.

Take the harmful effects of AI-generated nudes. The nudes AI creates are of perfect women and men with flawless skin, symmetry, perfect curves, beautiful eyes and body parts that are easy to fantasize about. Real humans, on the other hand, are full of warts, blemishes, moles, cut marks, dark spots, asymmetries and open flaws. Thus, if a man gets used to AI-generated images of women, he’ll have problems with real women because he’ll find flaws in them. That is also the reason why psychologists ask people to get away from porn. It creates unrealistic expectations for the viewers.


The AI girlfriend companies will not stop. Yet, there is an opportunity they are missing out on: women. The number of women who have faced abuse – physical or verbal – is so large that a good number of them have given up on ever finding love or a partner. They are mentally and emotionally in a fragile state and have stopped believing relationships work. Supportive digital boyfriends could bring them up to speed with what real relationships should look like.

Even women who have a habit of getting into abusive relationships repeatedly, their pattern can be broken by using these AI bots as a therapy to teach them that abuse is not good and should not define a relationship. They could be used to wean out the patriarchy inside to make them see that what characters in eponymous films like Arjun Reddy or Kabir Singh do, is abuse, not love.

AI girlfriends and partners are too profitable to go away. The number of companies providing them will only grow. Effective regulation is hence a better way to look at them than banning. The hope is also that from a fantasy tool to a therapeutic one, perhaps not all will be lost with our AI girlfriend fetish.

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Satyen is an award-winning scriptwriter, journalist based in Mumbai. He loves to let his pen roam the intersection of artificial intelligence, consciousness, and quantum mechanics. His written words have appeared in many Indian and foreign publications.

1 Comment

  1. Sadly, that personality is stuck in the mind of a teenager resting in the body of a septuagenarian.

    indeed it’s sad that you have to resort to politics to make your point

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