AI is giving us virtual friends. We prefer Actual Interactions.

Girl with AI robot friend

Lost in the deluge of news about Artificial Intelligence is the dozens of startups that are offering virtual friends. Silicon Valley has started to take notice, with some large investments. I was showing my age a bit when I initially scoffed at the idea of virtual friends, but it didn’t take much contemplation to realize that this is going to happen–and I also remember Tamagotchi! Virtual friends will be popular and pervasive. I’m guessing that even our virtual assistants will want to be our friends. Take a generation of TikTok’ers who are lonely and isolated and give them someone who knows them–or at least their massive collection of personal data–and it’s obvious.

Some of the dangers are clear: virtual friends have the potential to further isolate the isolated. Some dangers are deadly: when the AI learns about all your insecurities it can create a destructive feedback loop, further marginalizing the most at risk among us. We already know of this ugly consequence from social media, especially on developing teen brains and their self-esteem.

Though I’m not sure that AI itself is to blame. Instead I think it’s just a lack of imagination from those who are building it, combined with a healthy dose of profit motivation. Commodifying friendship is the sorf of full blown late-stage capitalism you might find in movies like…well…A.I. (the now old Kubrick/Spielberg movie).

Imagine instead a LLM (large language model) that combs through your history of taking actions with friends on Helpspring and combines them with data about your community, then helps to connect you to new friends in your community in order to build relationships and do good work together. Say your community has a nutrition crisis and the model knows that you are a gardener. It also knows there is a public lot that gets the requisite sun, rain, and water. It can recommend to you the potential for a community garden, tell you who to contact and how to get access to the space, and recommend new friends that might like to help you. The possibilities for building strong communities through strong relationships is endless. 

This all brings up an important point: why waste time on fake friends when A.I. can help us make real friends now through the power of Actual Interactions?

A social network built around actions between friends will build a positive dataset that an AI can use to recommend opportunities that will build healthy relationships, all while doing good in communities, and in the world. Needless to say, it will be an important part of Helspring’s roadmap.

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