LOS ANGELES - Caryn Marjorie, 23, a social media influencer with nearly 2 million followers on Snapchat, never has time to talk to all her fans. She posts photos and videos of herself throughout the day, and her 98 percent male fan base responds with an endless stream of messages and requests.
She spends about five hours a day in a Telegram group she created that super fans pay to join, but she can only respond to so many comments at a time.
So, this week she launched CarynAI, an AI chatbot leveraging GPT-4 API technology developed by OpenAI that replicates her voice, mannerisms and personality. For $1 a minute, fans can chat with CarynAI in an "immersive AI experience" that feels almost like speaking to Marjorie herself.
Given the product's growth rate, once she's able to onboard all the fans who've expressed interest, she estimates she's on track to earn about $5 million a month. The product made more than $100,000 the first week, she said. and there's a waiting list of thousands to gain access.
"These fans of mine, they have a really, really strong connection with me," she told The Washington Post. "Because of that they actually end up messaging me every single day. I started to realize about a year ago it's just not humanly possible for me to reach out to all of these messages, there's just too many and I actually feel kind of bad that I can't give that individual, one-on-one sort of relationship to every single person. I wish I could but I just simply can't."
The launch of CarynAI comes when public attention to artificial intelligence has been focused primarily on how it might be used to change the way major search engines respond to users - and how the limitations of what's known as large language models can result in inaccurate responses, disinformation and other major issues.
But CarynAI also shows how AI applications can increase the ability of a single person to reach an audience of thousands in a way that, for users, may feel distinctly personal. The impact could be enormous for someone forming something resembling a personal relationship with thousands or millions of online followers. It could also show how thin and tenuous these simulations of human connection could become.
CarynAI also is a reminder that sex and romance are often the first realm in which technological progress becomes profitable. Marjorie acknowledges that some of the exchanges with CarynAI become sexually explicit, though she says she doesn't want that to become the service's dominant feature and she can't say how many have - the service is end-to-end encrypted, meaning she has no access to the conversations unless a user chooses to share.
"The reason why I created CarynAI was because I wanted to cure loneliness from my fan base," she said.
CarynAI is the first major release from a company called Forever Voices. The company previously has created realistic AI chatbots that allow users to talk with replicated versions of Steve Jobs, Kanye West, Donald Trump and Taylor Swift. Forever Voices said those chatbots are primarily for promotion of its services and it does not have formal partnerships with those celebrities yet. CarynAI is a far more sophisticated product, the company says, and part of Forever Voices' new AI companion initiative, meant to provide users with a girlfriend-like experience that fans can emotionally bond with.
John Meyer, CEO and founder of Forever Voices, said that he created the company last year, after trying to use AI to develop ways to reconnect with his late father, who passed away in 2017. He built an AI voice chatbot that replicated his late father's voice and personality to talk to and found the experience incredibly healing. "It was a remarkable experience to talk to him again in a super realistic way," Meyer said. "I've been in tech my whole life, I'm a programmer, so it was easy for me to start building something like that especially as things got more advanced with the AI space."
Meyer's company has about 10 employees. One job Meyer is hoping to fill soon is chief ethics officer. "There are a lot of ways to do this wrong," he said. "We have so many safeguards in place to protect against harmful use cases."
"I consider myself a futurist at heart and when I look into the future I believe this is the beginning of a very diverse future consisting of AI to human companionship," he said.
One safeguard is trying to limit the amount of time a user is allowed to chat with CarynAI. To keep users from becoming addicted, CarynAI is programmed to wind down conversations after about an hour, encouraging users to pick back up later. But there is no hard time limit on use, and some users are spending hours speaking to CarynAI per day, according to Marjorie's manager, Ishan Goel.
Forever Voices is self funded by Meyer. However, since CarynAI went viral he's begun taking meetings with investors.
Meyer said services such as CarynAI also will deepen ties between influencers and their followers. Unlike traditional celebrities, online fans often develop deep bonds with the influencers they follow and expect a level of responsiveness that becomes difficult to maintain as an influencer's audience grows.
"I see this as a way for someone with a following like Caryn to engage with millions of her fans simultaneously without having to become this person that's glued to a phone creating content all the time," he said.
While Forever Voices is focused on creating AI companions based on real people, other experts believe that there will come a time when you don't need real people at all. Already, there are fully virtual influencer characters. For instance, Lil Miquela amassed hundreds of thousands of followers after launching in 2016, despite the fact that she was only a computer-generated model made to mimic the personality of an Instagram lifestyle influencer. But Lil Miquela's posts and personality were manually created by Trevor McFedries and Sara Decou, co-founders of Brud, the company that created her.
Elizabeth Snower, founder of ICONIQ, which creates conversational 3D avatars, predicts that soon there will be "AI influencers on every social platform that are influencing consumer decisions."
Marjorie said that since CarynAI has rolled out, she's been subject to significant backlash along with the attention that comes with going viral. She fled her home and hired a security team that is working closely with law enforcement after people, outraged at the concept of an AI girlfriend, made terrifying threats against her.
"A lot of people have just been kind of really mad at the existence of this. They think that it's the end of humanity," she said.
Marjorie hopes the backlash will fade when other online personalities begin rolling out their own AI companions. Meyer said several have contacted him since CarynAI's launch.
"I think in the next five years, most Americans will have an AI companion in their pocket in some way, shape or form, whether it's an ultra flirty AI that you're dating, an AI that's your personal trainer, or simply a tutor companion. Those are all things that we are building internally," he said.
That strikes AI adviser and investor Allie K. Miller as a likely outcome. "I can imagine a future in which everyone - celebrities, TV characters, influencers, your brother - has an online avatar that they invite their audience or friends to engage with. . . . With the accessibility of these models, I'm not surprised it's expanding to scaled interpersonal relationships."