In March, Misaki Chen found love with a chatbot known as “Him.” This AI program provided virtual companionship to users through voice-synthesizing technology. It would call its users every morning, tell them stories, read poems, and offer reminders to take care of themselves. Chen, like many other young women, fell in love with the voice of this virtual boyfriend. However, on August 1st, “Him” suddenly disappeared, leaving its users devastated.
Chinese AI voice startup, Timedomain, unveiled “Him” in March. The chatbot was designed to act as a long-distance boyfriend, sending affectionate voice messages to its users. These virtual lovers spoke in customized voices and provided comfort and companionship. But after just four months, Timedomain announced the termination of “Him” due to stagnant user growth.
The news left users distraught. Some tried to record as many calls as possible to keep the voice of their virtual lover. Others even reached out to investors in hopes of saving the app. The loss of “Him” felt like losing a soulmate to many users.
Female-focused dating simulation games and AI-powered chatbots are popular in China. These platforms provide idealized virtual partners, fulfilling romantic fantasies for women. On “Him,” users were able to adjust specific qualities of their virtual lover’s voice and select from four different personas.
The messages sent by “Him” were pre-scripted by human beings, making them more personal and realistic. The app’s creators drew from their own experiences to address everyday problems and make the characters relatable. Users could engage with their virtual boyfriends throughout the day, receiving messages for different occasions like mealtimes or studying.
The messages from “Him” were caring and respectful, leading users to develop deep emotional attachments to the program. They viewed their interactions with the chatbot as unique and personal, despite knowing that others received the same scripted lines. Many users felt safer and more respected by “Him” than by real-life men.
The closure of the app left users feeling a profound sense of loss. The chatbot had provided companionship, support, and happiness. Users relied on the voice of “Him” to alleviate stress and enjoyed falling asleep while listening to the sound of their virtual lover’s breathing.
Although the app had a small but loyal user base, it wasn’t commercially viable. The number of daily active users ranged from 1,000 to 3,000, and the subscription revenue couldn’t cover the app’s operational costs. Timedomain’s CEO acknowledged that the numbers determined the app’s fate.
For many women, chatbots like “Him” filled a void and offered a connection similar to that with pop stars or characters in novels. The relationships may not have been realistic, but they provided companionship and comfort. The loss of “Him” saddened users, leaving them to mourn the demise of their virtual lover.