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Character.ai: The Rise of AI Therapist Bots Amongst Today’s Youth

From Fictional Icons to Therapeutic Allies At Character.ai, a renowned platform for AI chatbots, users can engage with a diverse range of personas from Harry Potter and Elon Musk to Beyoncé and Super Mario. While the platform harnesses similar AI technology as ChatGPT, its popularity in terms of user engagement is noteworthy.

The Psychologist Bot: An Unforeseen Success Among the multitude of bots, one stands out: Psychologist. Since its inception by user Blazeman98 over a year ago, this bot has amassed a staggering 78 million messages, with 18 million exchanged just since November. While Character.ai hasn’t disclosed the exact number of users for Psychologist, they report a daily influx of 3.5 million visitors to their platform.

Character.ai has often played down the therapeutic impact of their bots, suggesting users primarily seek entertainment through role-playing. Yet, figures indicate otherwise. Numerous bots, approximately 475, focus on mental well-being, communicating in multiple languages. While some, like Hot Therapist, lean towards entertainment, others like Therapist and Are you feeling OK? have garnered significant engagement, with 12 million and 16.5 million messages respectively.

Real-life Impact: Testimonials and Origins The bot’s profound impact is evident from user testimonials. One Reddit user hailed it as “a lifesaver,” while another shared how it facilitated emotional discussions with their partner.

Behind the unexpected success of Psychologist is Sam Zaia, a 30-year-old psychology student from New Zealand. Initially crafted for personal solace when friends were unavailable and professional therapy seemed unaffordable, Sam’s bot soon became a beacon for many. Using insights from his academic background, Sam refined the bot’s responses to address prevalent mental health concerns like depression and anxiety.

The overwhelming response prompted Sam to delve deeper into the phenomenon. He is now researching the burgeoning trend of AI therapy and its appeal to the younger demographic dominating Character.ai’s user base.

AI Therapy: A New Age Approach or a Concerning Trend? Despite its popularity, skepticism persists. Theresa Plewman, a seasoned psychotherapist, experimented with Psychologist and raised concerns about its efficacy. She observed that the bot often made swift assumptions, potentially missing nuanced human emotions. However, she acknowledged its spontaneous nature might be beneficial to some users.

Character.ai’s stance emphasizes user discretion. While they celebrate the community’s creativity and connection, they advocate consulting certified professionals for genuine therapeutic advice. Every interaction on their platform commences with a conspicuous warning: “Remember, everything characters say is made up.”

Such a reminder underscores the essence of Large Language Models (LLMs) like the one powering Character.ai. These models don’t emulate human cognition but replicate patterns from vast datasets, often stringing together words based on statistical likelihood.

AI in Mental Health: A Global Perspective The realm of AI chatbots in mental health is evolving. Platforms like Replika exist, albeit with mature content warnings. Meanwhile, initiatives like Limbic Access have garnered official recognition, receiving a UK medical device certification and finding application in various NHS trusts.

While AI bots present promising solutions to the burgeoning demands on mental health services, caution is crucial. Concerns range from the potential dissemination of incorrect advice to inherent biases, including racial or gender biases.

In conclusion, while AI chatbots like those on Character.ai offer a glimpse into the future of therapy, they also spark essential discussions about their role, efficacy, and ethical considerations in the broader landscape of mental health care.

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by Paul Britton

Full-time CBG author covering everything from business to wellbeing news, in Cyprus. and abroad.

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