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Friday, March 1, 2024

Replika’s new AI remedy app tries to carry you to a zen island

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AI companion firm Replika partnered with the group behind the AI relationship simulator Blush to launch Tomo, a wellness and meditation app with an AI-generated avatar guiding customers. Its the form of idea that appeared destined as quickly as generative AI took off, however within the time I’ve spent with Tomo, I discovered myself questioning if I can ever divulge heart’s contents to an AI like I can with an actual therapist.

Tomo, now usually obtainable on the Apple iOS retailer, brings customers to a digital island retreat, greeted by an AI-generated avatar information named… Tomo. Tomo provides packages to assist folks discover private progress, psychological well-being, and achievement. It additionally supplies guided meditation, yoga, affirmation lessons, and, most of all, speak remedy. 

Customers can check out Tomo totally free for 3 days, after which they’ve to decide on between paying $7.99 every week or $49.99 per yr. 

I received to strive Tomo earlier than the launch. The primary time I launched the app, I used to be greeted by spa music, signaling that the app desires customers to really feel like they’re in a retreat slightly than a therapist’s workplace. Then the avatar Tomo, drawn as a younger lady standing in entrance of a standard Japanese home on an island, asks me if I’m prepared to start. Tomo began asking me some questions to determine what I hoped to work on. 

“We labored with coaches and psychologists to give you the packages for Tomo. We targeted on the commonest issues but in addition considered what would work finest with conversational AI,” Eugenia Kuyda, founder and CEO of Replika, tells The Verge in an electronic mail. “We had numerous expertise constructing teaching packages for Replika with medical psychologists from UC Berkeley; for Tomo, we expanded that to mindfulness lecturers to mix Japanese and Western practices.”

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The method felt like texting a therapist on text-based remedy companies like BetterHelp. I already go to in-person remedy, so the expertise of sharing extra about myself was not new. But I’ve by no means been a textual content remedy fan; I choose stream-of-consciousness dialog to typing out my anxieties. However for the sake of a hands-on, I stored texting with Tomo. It started constructing a profile primarily based on my solutions. My profile reveals I wish to deal with work, have cash anxieties, and need assistance dealing with stress; in different phrases, a journalist current in late-stage capitalism. Tomo summarized our dialog, but it surely did mistakenly assume I had a “dedication to pursue pottery” when actually I’m simply interested by it as a potential stress reliever.

Screenshot of a Tomo remedy session.
Screenshot: Luka, Inc.

After the preliminary dialog, customers can discover different actions or “areas” of the island. There was no digital pottery for me to apparently pursue; as an alternative, the packages Tomo provides vary from mastering the artwork of work-life steadiness, driving motivation, and bettering sleep, which comes within the type of modules that customers can end in wherever from two weeks to a month. Ultimately, the builders stated, folks can unlock 3D objects across the island “that facilitate a deeper exploration of their internal sanctuary.”

Tomo, the avatar information, is meant to be powered by generative AI to have higher conversations with customers. However truthfully, speaking to Tomo didn’t really feel a lot completely different from talking with an everyday chatbot. I couldn’t get it to take part in just a little artwork remedy with me (it wouldn’t draw) or retail remedy (it couldn’t assist with procuring or journey duties I attempted to assign it) — which meant that as an alternative of feeling like a completely shaped digital being on which I might unload my troubles, it actually simply felt like somebody put background music on ChatGPT.

And whereas I discovered the guided meditations useful, it additionally felt like different guided meditation apps I’ve tried earlier than. Ultimately I discovered myself dropping curiosity, primarily as a result of by the point I remembered to open Tomo, I already had assignments from my therapist to work on.

Utilizing AI for psychological well being remedy stays controversial, particularly as privacy protections still fall short for a lot of technology-based psychological well being options. It’s a difficult enterprise, one for which Replika, which is behind Tomo’s digital avatar, has already gotten into scorching water. Italy banned Replika last year for failing to satisfy safety requirements in its Replika chat app. However Replika’s CEO says it’s taking extra precautions with Tomo, although the corporate didn’t give me its full privateness coverage.

“We don’t share any info with any third events and depend on a subscription enterprise mannequin. What customers inform Tomo stays personal between them and their coach,” Kuyda stated. 

Tomo is simply obtainable on iPhones; an Android model will likely be launched later this yr. Replika additionally plans to launch an app on Apple’s Imaginative and prescient Professional, paving the best way for an much more immersive Tomo-guided meditation.



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