Today, you can choose to spend the wee hours talking sweet (or not-so-sweet) nothings to whoever you want, as long as you're happy that they're a digital personality and you're willing to pay for the experience.
One provider of such services is DreamGF, which makes the tantalizing promise that your virtual girlfriend is just a few clicks away.
This comes at a time when a growing number of influencers are discovering that creating a virtual avatar to talk to fans on their behalf can be a time-saving and lucrative side hustle.
So how does this work and perhaps more importantly, what are the implications for the future of relationships between real living, breathing human beings?
I decided to have a chat with two executives of DreamGF to try and find out.
DreamGF allows users to design and then attempt to form relationships with girlfriends whose images and personalities are entirely constructed by generative AI.
Users can choose from a range of physical attributes, including hair length, ethnicity, age, and breast size. They can also choose from a much smaller set of personality attributes to decide whether she is a nympho, dominatrix, or nurse.
Once she's manifested in the digital universe, they can chat with her, including sexting her, and also ask her to send them pictures of an adult nature.
Although there is an option to select lesbian as a personality trait, it seems pretty clear that the service is designed for heterosexual men. However, I'm told that a DreamBF version is in the works.
Image generation is handled by the open-source Stable Diffusion engine. A clever innovation is that coding tricks have been used to overcome the fact that it's often difficult to create characters with a consistent appearance using AI image generators.
To handle the chat functionality, however, DreamGF has trained and deployed its own large language model. This was necessary because commonly used LLMs like OpenAI's GPT-4 don't allow adult content.
The technical wizardry doesn't stop there - it's even possible for users to receive voice messages from their AI girlfriends.
Although styled and marketed as a dating experience, it quickly becomes clear that the primary use case is to provide adult entertainment. This is a fact that DreamGF CEO Georgi Dimitrov and VP of Business Development Jeff Dillon were happy to admit when they joined me for a recent webinar discussion.
The Business Case
It's pretty clear that there's a business case here; after all, a lot of the Internet was built on porn and sex sells.
Dimitrov and Dillon both come from backgrounds in the adult industry, ranging from running OnlyFans agencies to payment processors, NFT projects, and electronic sex toy development.
With a wealth of cumulative insight into the direction of the adult entertainment industry, both believe that AI is the future.
However, the success of OnlyFans - built on enabling viewers to develop (seemingly) one-on-one relationships with content creators - is also central to the business model.
"You can be more transparent now and say, hey, you're chatting with the AI version of me," says Dillon. We’ll come back to this later.
So far, things seem to be going well from a business point of view. Although only recently launched, the service has around 10,000 paying users and, perhaps more importantly, a retention rate of 80 percent. It also offers a free trial, and in total, over six million virtual girlfriends have been created, sharing around 20 million messages with their human partners.
Dillon says, “Obviously, there’s a lot of people who are fascinated with the technology, and they just want to try it out to see how it works because it's interesting.
“But a lot of people actually stay and engage in the long run with their AI girlfriend.”
Dimitri adds, "If you look at the market, there are many image generators, there are many text chats, and there is no solution that offers the full end-to-end experience of creating your girlfriend, chatting with her, and requesting content.”
Social And Ethical Implications
Obviously, the growth in popularity of services based around enabling AI relationships and sex raises a great many ethical questions.
Dillon and Dimitrov say they are more comfortable facilitating relationships with AIs than with OnlyFans models and influencers due to the fact that many OnlyFans models lie about the fact that they are directly engaging with fans.
Dillon is happy to talk about that particular platform’s open secret – “This kind of deceptive practice – where you think you’re chatting with the model. But it’s some guy in India.
“I was feeling at one point that essentially, we’re lying … And the answer for me was AI.”
This is clearly only the start of the ethical questions that arise due to the existence of such a service, though.
The platform has put measures in place to ensure it can’t be used to generate illegal content, for example featuring underage characters. It also prevents users from creating virtual girlfriends based on real people. This is done by abstracting the image generation prompts away from the user through the site's user interface.
Dimitrov says, "We don't leave the people to write exactly what they want … because you’re going to get a lot of celebrities … and children … this is something that we don’t want to leave in the hands of the user.”
The chat algorithms themselves are designed to detect and ban words related to child pornography.
“There’s a lot of people who are interested in these kinds of things … and we are fighting with all the technology that we have. This is our safeguard," he says.
Other issues, such as whether there is a danger that users might begin to form relationships that are unhealthy or detrimental to their ability to form real-life relationships, aren’t so easily solved with technology alone.
If men – particularly relatively young and immature men – become used to the idea of virtual girlfriends who are basically programmed to give them whatever they want, how will this affect the way they view and treat real women?
Dillon’s answer to this is that new technology is often a double-edged sword, and while there may be negative consequences for some people, this has to be balanced with the potential for positive change.
He says, “It's like, 'Hey, I'm kind of used to this convenience that technology has given us.’
“They get used to talking to a girl that they can say ‘I want a submissive girl’ [and then] in real life, they develop a relationship and she’s not so submissive and, you know, there’s going to be some adjustment period for some people.
“But one of the cool things … it could be used for many different things. It could be used for relationship therapies … a lot of people are afraid to share things that are going on in real life … but talking to an AI person … I feel much more comfortable sharing my feelings because I’m just talking to a robot.”
The Future Of Virtual Girlfriends
Whatever your view on the moral or ethical implications, I think it’s clear that the AI sex and relationship industry has arrived, and, for better or worse, it isn't going to go away any time soon.
At DreamGF, the focus in the immediate future will be on digitizing real models to create hybrid girlfriends – who exist in real life as well as AI-generated avatars on a computer or smartphone screen.
Dillon says, "There’s these models that have massive fan bases … for us to be able to create the AI version of Star X – so now she can point her fans to this AI version of herself, and they can interact with her right now … that’s probably our big step going forward.”
In fact, DreamGF is planning to go live with its first hybrid AI model in the next few weeks.
Beyond that, there’s video. Currently, this is the holy grail for many generative AI platforms, but it’s easy to foresee that a time will come in the relatively near future when it will be possible to have real-time video chats with AI girlfriends (and boyfriends).
And even further into the future? Well, then, there are robots.
Dimitrov says, “The most exciting thing … we’re even creating an option to export your [virtual girlfriend] – the chat history and everything, the whole experience – and put it into something like a real-life robot.
“In Japan … they can create a real-looking robot with the features of a person … I think that’s maybe ten or twenty years’ time. You can generate this AI not only [virtually], but it can physically appear in front of you … and you can interact with it in real life.
“This feature, on the one hand, gets me excited, but on the other hand, quite scares me.”
I don’t think he’s the only one!
You can click here to watch my conversation with DreamGF’s Georgi Dimitrov and Jeff Dillon in full, where we go into more depth on some of the ethical issues around the AI sex and relationships industry and what the future might hold.