Building and maintaining relationships is hard, and COVID-19 definitely didn’t help. Multiple studies have shown that adults have become even lonelier since the start of the pandemic.
The founders are trying to find technological solutions. There are many startups looking to combat loneliness, some formed years before the pandemic, including those focused on seniors. elliq and Replicawhich creates an AI companion, and AI infection’s Pi, an emotional support bot. But one new entrant really caught my eye this week: Amorai.
The startup has created an AI relationship coach to help people grow and foster real-life connections by offering advice and answers to relationship questions. The company was founded by former Tinder CEO Renate Nyborg and was incubated in Andrew Ng’s AI Fund. The company just raised an undisclosed amount of seed funding that took just 24 hours to raise, Nyborg told Vox’s Recode Media. podcast back in april.
While combating loneliness is a big mission, and some groups of people may be more open to chatting with a bot than a human, it seems like it has the potential to go wrong just as quickly. But what do I know? So I contacted an expert.
Turns out I’m not the only one who’s a little wary of this concept. Maarten Sap, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University and a researcher at the nonprofit Allen Institute for AI, shared my concern. Sap’s research focuses on incorporating social common sense and social intelligence into AI. He has also conducted research on the development of deep language learning models that help understand human cognition. Essentially, he knows a thing or two about how AI interacts with humans.
Sap told me that while the idea of creating a technology solution to help foster real life relationships is admirable, and there is definitely evidence that there will be strong use cases for AI in combating these types of problems, this makes him think.
“I’m saying this with an open mind, I don’t think it will work,” he said. “Have they done the studies that show how this will work? Does [Amorai] increase [users’] social skills? Because yeah, I don’t know to what extent these things transfer.”
What worries him most, he said, is the concern that this type of app would give all its users the same advice, good or bad, and that it would be difficult for the AI to get the nuances right about certain relationships. . Also, would people trust AI’s advice over someone else anyway?
“I came up with the idea of pick up artists,” Sap said. “Is this going to give you advice to tell a group of straight men to tell women off or try to sleep with them? Or are your railings for this?
If the model is designed to learn on its own, it could create an echo chamber based on the types of questions people ask. That, in turn, could point the model in a troublesome direction if left unchecked. Bing users may have already learned this the hard way when their AI told people they were unhappy in their marriages.
Sap said that one way this could definitely work would be if there was a human touch to it. Human oversight to ensure the app is getting the right advice to the right people could make this a powerful tool. But we don’t know if that’s the case because the company doesn’t answer questions or accept interviews.
This round also highlights how deep the FOMO in AI really goes. Someone who researches these things every day can’t see how this company could actually work, and yet Amorai raised funds within 24 hours of launch in a bad market.
Of course, investors know more about the company than is being published, and of course these concerns can serve as feedback to the startup. But like many AI startups, I have to assume it’s being built with good intentions, despite having nothing concrete to prove it.
I also don’t think it was a small pre-seed round, which I tend to assume when a company doesn’t disclose full funding; if it was big, you’d want people to know about it, but in this case, I think it’s probably the opposite. It’s a lot of pressure to raise a lot of money before executing or finding the right product for the market.
“When I hear about these types of ideas and startups, it comes from a good place, but often it’s just the tech fixer mentality,” Sap said.