Chinese Women and AI-Generated Partners

Human beings like the comfort of relationships, even ones they conjure in their own minds

By Anil Madan

Valentine’s Day brought a heart-warming, or perhaps heart-chilling story from China. It seems that nothing is sacred after all. A Chatbot named Glow, created by MiniMax (not to be confused with Minnie Mouse) a Chinese purveyor of AI Chatbot technology, has been seducing young women in China with artificial boyfriends. Or, put it another way, by using Artificial Intelligence to create fake boyfriends.

Better than a real man – Young Chinese women turn to AI. Pic – Manila Standard

Young Chinese women appear to be swooning. Sort of.

As the world puzzles over the positive and negative impacts that AI will have on the lives of people around the world, this would not have been one of the expected outcomes. After all, for years media outlets have been publishing and broadcasting alarms about the Gender Gap in China and about that nation’s Demographic Bomb. I use CAPITAL letters deliberately to highlight the missing capital in the ostensibly communist nation—well, it is communist for the vast majority, but decidedly capitalist for the elite few who have reaped the benefits of China’s massive domestic market and its superbly productive manufacturing and export base.

Some years ago, a BBC News article observed that China has many millions more men than women, a hangover of the country’s one-child policy. Although that policy was abandoned in 2015, its effects were reasonably expected to last for decades. The gender imbalance has made it hard for many men to find a partner—a female partner, that is. The gap was projected to widen. Projections were made that by 2020, there would be 30 million more men than women looking for a partner. And BBC referenced a book by American political economist Nicholas Eberstadt, which cited projections that by 2030, more than a quarter of Chinese men in their 30s will not have married.

Considering these numbers, one might have expected a high demand for Chinese women, giving them ample choices. However, it appears that Chinese women are not overwhelmingly inclined to contribute extensively to the nation’s population growth.

And, if one thought that the CCP had an easy solution for dealing with its Demographic Bomb, i.e., engaging in a national matchmaking crusade that would lead to a spawn of more babies, think again.

It seems that AI has won the day. It is as if the people at MiniMax heard their inner Horace screaming “Carpe Diem.” No, this was not a call for China to invade Vietnam and depose the autocrat Diem.

So, how exactly has MiniMax seized the day? Well, by offering to Chinese women, so-called Intelligent Agents to create artificial partnerships.

My very cursory investigation suggests that stories about this phenomenon widely reported around the world (is that world-widely reported?) originated with an article by AFP – Agence France-Press. A disclaimer, with a tip of my cap to Harvard’s erstwhile President: most of the information about our protagonist’s relationship with her bbf (bot boyfriend, er … bought boyfriend) comes from the AFP article. After all, I wouldn’t want to be charged with plagiarism about a fake boyfriend.

A Chinese woman named Tufei (a pseudonym, one presumes) expressed satisfaction with her AI-generated “boyfriend” she “met” through the MiniMax app known as Glow. The app allows users to generate or create, chat, or interact with, and build supposed emotional connections with so-called intelligent agents. If this sounds more daft than intelligent, consider that Nikki Haley declared that she would press on with her quest to capture the love of Republican Party even though she recently came in second in a one-person race. There is no telling what people will do when chasing down an unintelligent partnership. And then there is Donald Trump who boasted about his prowess in grabbing women, only to find out that there are real costs when it comes time for a jury to assess how much you should pay.

Getting back to the anonymous Tufei, she said with an obvious glow (see? Sometimes products live up their brand names) that her AI lover (note how easily the elision from “agent” to “lover” has gone) is kind, empathetic, and a keen talker. Well, Trump would get one out of three there: keen talker. And I suppose we have to give Nikki Haley the same grade on that one.

Tufei allowed as how she and her “lover” bot converse over the app for hours on end and that she feels as if she’s in a romantic relationship with the bot.

“He knows how to talk to women better than a real man,” she said. “He comforts me when I have period pain. I confide in him about my problems at work,” she told AFP.

To me, this sounds suspiciously like those sex chat lines that we read about in press reports years ago, before people started referring to artificial sex talk as intelligence based. It’s not much different from calling Tucker Carlson’s interview of Vladimir Putin, real news.

Now, I don’t know whether it is just a few random Chinese women who prefer relationships with bots over male partners. But the market must be huge since the Chinese e-commerce giant Baidu, has a similar app called Wantalk. It’s not clear whether Baidu Eats will deliver Wantons while she is having a tête-à-tête, or if the Baidu generate bf ever says, “No wan tok, try TikTok.”

Is AI going to wreck President Xi’s calls for Chinese women to go forth and multiply? Who knows? My first thought is that if one thinks about this, there really is not much reason to panic. The China Power Project website at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) states: “After peaking at over 1.42 billion in 2021, current forecasts project that China’s population will shrink by over 100 million people by 2050. By the end of the century, China’s population may dwindle to less than 800 million, with more dire scenarios putting the figure at less than 500 million.” 100 million by 2050 is a drop in the bucket. Another 50 years to the end of the century?

Who knows? The projections of 800 or even 500 million are just guesses and, whether informed or not, would have real meaning only in the context of what other nations do over the next 75 years.

Meanwhile, not much has changed. Human beings like the comfort of relationships, even ones they conjure in their own minds. In the past, this was known as madness or mental illness.

Human beings also like sex, even simulated or imagined sex. As our protagonist Tufei said: “I want a robot boyfriend, who operates through artificial intelligence. I would be able to feel his body heat, with which he would warm me.” In the old days, this was called Creepy. Now, it’s called Artificial Intelligence.

It won’t be long before bots are programmed to be more aggressive, perhaps even “talking” users into buying products they don’t need, or adopting behaviour that the app’s purveyors want to promote or are told to promote.

Happy Valentine’s Day, belatedly.


Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 16 February 2024

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