I cheated with a robot: AI and the future of infidelity

I cheated with a robot: AI and the future of infidelity

Can you cheat with a robot?

Six months ago, a Reddit user posted to r/relationship_advice asking, “Fiance [28M] found my [26F] explicit AI chats and called our wedding off, how do I go on?”

In the post, the user describes the relationship she built with an AI rendition of her favorite video game character – both romantic and sexual in nature – over six months, and the blowout after her fiance discovered her digital sexcapades. 

Like many fandom-engrossed Gen-Zers, I was enticed by the prospect of speaking to my favorite characters with the emergence of Character AI – a digital platform which generates realistic conversation using artificial intelligence. While the platform isn’t explicitly marketed as flirting with Fred Weasley, it’s what the site has gained notoriety for. As the Reddit user points out, the bots start out rather dry, but with the right words and persistence, the chats quickly become attuned to your personal interests. 

This program prevents users from engaging in outright sexually-explicit conversations (not that I know this from personal experience), displaying a warning sign and preventing further text generation, avoiding providing an explicit response. Yet some users, like the Reddit OP in question, have managed to supersede this barrier. Cases like these have risen from abuses of the platform, rather than natural outcomes from their design. 

How do AI romance-bots shape up in comparison to their controversial digital counterparts? Starting with the most nebulous porn, OnlyFans and cam girls. While it’s safe to say most wouldn’t consider simply watching porn to be infidelity, OnlyFans and its predecessor, “cam girls,” blur the line between detached, emotionless visual stimulation and legitimate infidelity. It isn’t uncommon to see partners today communicate their boundaries regarding porn consumption and whether they consider it cheating. 

Moving down the electronic cheating iceberg to sex toys. Your initial reaction might be to scoff – of course masturbation isn’t cheating…but what about hyper-realistic penetration machines? Or borderline-animatronic sex dolls? Suddenly self-pleasure may result in a split. The issue of infidelity has never been limited to IRL, physical interactions.

I’m a long-time skeptic of the “robots will take over” claim, and long-time fan of AI for purposes like brainstorming, email-drafting, and trip-planning. However, it’s easy to see the tricky implications of the situation at hand. Where exactly do we draw the line between harmless geekiness (ie reading fan-fic) and genuine harm? 

The comments on the post highlight a key detail which may provide insight – the emotional intimacy. In this case, it wasn’t just that the user had engaged in sexually explicit conversations with the AI companion, (though this in itself may be enough for some to call it off), but the woman had begun to emotionally connect with and rely on the bot. She found herself more likely to seek out its advice than the comfort of her own partner. 

Admittedly, this is an extreme case. But, it raises a tension I don’t anticipate leaving our cultural zeitgeist anytime soon. The audience for services such as Character AI appear small, and yet the appeal of comfort, romance, and trust are universal. Suddenly the 2013 movie, Her, doesn’t seem all that far-fetched.

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