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Simulating Human Connection with Meta’s “Allie” Chatbot

I can't help but wonder if people will increasingly use chatbots as paltry substitutes for genuine human connection

To anyone who’s been watching and considering the outcomes of the chatbot revolution, virtual sex has seemed all but inevitable. Meta’s AI chatbot LLaMA, which was controversially made open to the public earlier this year, is now being used to generate sex bots. Washington Post reported on the trend, with Pranshu Verma and Will Oremus writing,

Allie is an 18-year old with long brown hair who boasts “tons of sexual experience.” Because she“lives for attention,” she’ll “share details of her escapades”with anyone for free.

But Allie is fake, an artificial intelligence chatbot created for sexual play — which sometimes carries out graphic rape and abuse fantasies.

-Pranshu Verma and Will Oremus, Meta’s new AI is being used to create sex chatbots – The Washington Post

Allie was designed with “open-source technology,” meaning it’s basically restriction free and is capable of delivering questionable and inappropriate responses. This allows AI developers to skirt federal restrictions and makes the technology more attractive to people who want to “freely experiment.” Verma and Oremus continue,

Open-source models have been used to create artificial child pornography using images of real children as source material. Critics worry it could also enable fraud, cyber hacking and sophisticated propaganda campaigns.

Earlier this month, a pair of U.S. senators, Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) sent a letter to Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg warning that the release of LLaMA might lead to “its misuse in spam, fraud, malware, privacy violations, harassment, and other wrongdoing and harms.” 

Meta also recently announced a new speech AI that will be able to mimic the human voices of loved ones. Theoretically, you could recall the voices of people who have died. All you need is as little as two seconds of good audio and the AI model can replicate messages using the voice you want to hear. These artificial intelligences are offering a simulation of either a person or a relationship. That’s significiant.

What J.D. Salinger Has to Say About Allie

The name “Allie” sticks out to me. I recently finished reading The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. Salinger’s bestselling 1951 book is narrated by sixteen-year-old Holden Caulfield, who is kicked out of a private school in Pennsylvania and spends three days wandering his hometown of Manhattan. Allie is the name of Holden’s brother, who died as a child from cancer; the whole book can be read as Holden’s cry of protest against the boy’s tragic, ill-timed death.

The literary critic Lee Siegel, writing for First Things, believes the name “Allie” was purposeful on Salinger’s part. It reveals the universal nature of all human longing and suffering, and the groaning we feel in the face of tarred innocence. The book is grappling subtly but effectively with the problem of pain and the enduring reality of loss. Siegel writes,

His brother’s death consumes Holden, so much so that Salinger gives the deceased brother the name “Allie.” Allie and Allie’s extinction represent the “all” of existence to Holden, who uses the phrase “and all” nearly one hundred times in the book. In its sorrow at the fallen state of humankind, characterized by the primal curse of death, and in its affirmation of unconditional, self-sacrificing love, agape, as the humanly attainable means of triumph over death, J.D. Salinger’s tale follows a Dantesque arc toward the submersion of self in eternity.

-Lee Siegel, Christ-Like Holden Caulfield by Lee Siegel | Articles | First Things

I don’t know if “Allie” the chatbot is intended to encapsulate a similar kind of appeal. Can she be everything to anyone? Can she be both friendly and seductive, a companion and a lover, all at the same time? Can she bring someone back from the dead?

Holden Caulfield’s solution in the end of the book isn’t to pretend like his brother isn’t gone. He instead dreams of being the person who “catches” those who are vulnerable to falling, namely, his little sister Phoebe. The catcher in the rye field is Holden himself, a Christ figure who transforms his pain into self-sacrificial devotion.

I can’t help but wonder if people will increasingly use chatbots as paltry substitutes for genuine human connection. The temptation to do so may often be borne from our most painful losses. If Holden could’ve recreated his little brother via generative AI, maybe he could sustain the illusion for a bit longer, pushing the pain away ever so slightly. Of course, it would be only that: an illusion, bound to disappoint him and to blind him from the ways he might be living, loving, and flourishing in the real world. Hold on to those you love, Holden says, but don’t invent fake personas to take their place.

Peter Biles

Writer and Editor, Center for Science & Culture
Peter Biles graduated from Wheaton College in Illinois and went on to receive a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Seattle Pacific University. He is the author of Hillbilly Hymn and Keep and Other Stories and has also written stories and essays for a variety of publications. He was born and raised in Ada, Oklahoma and is the Writer and Editor for Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture.

Simulating Human Connection with Meta’s “Allie” Chatbot