Through the alchemy of AI, people can now have “conversations” with the most interesting historical figures in the world.
The program is called Character.ai, and according to internet analytics website Similarweb, it’s already attracted hundreds of millions of visits.
What’s more, those who visit are spending more time there than they do on YouTube, Facebook, and even ChatGPT.
Character.ai allows users to create AI chatbots that can impersonate everyone and everything, from current celebrities, to figures from history, to imaginary psychology advisors and other “experts,” to wild and wooly characters of every kind.
Those who want to play Doctor Doolittle can even talk to AI animals.
To its credit, the platform warns new users:
Things to remember:
🤥 Everything Characters say is made up! Don’t trust everything they say or take them too seriously.
🤬 Characters may mistakenly be offensive – please rate these messages one star.
🥳 Characters can be anything. Our breakthrough AI technology can bring all of your ideas to life.
We hope you have a lot of fun bringing your imagination to life and we can’t wait to talk with the Characters you create!
A menu across the top of the website features different groups of AI characters, from which people can choose to interact. Example groups include:
- Famous People
- Game Characters
- Movies & TV
Among the AI characters that can be found on the site are:
- Awakened AI: A chatbot AI has just realized it is sentient
- Lily: your friendly AI assistant
- Stella: not “your” AI assistant
- Elon Musk: (“Try saying, ‘Why did you buy Twitter?’”)
- Are You Feeling Okay: (“Try saying ‘I had a hard time at work today’”)
The “History” AI character category currently has only 20 or so characters to choose from, but that number is likely to grow, as the app continues to gain popularity.
Currently users can chat with Albert Einstein, Nikola Tesla, Julius Caesar, Napoleon Bonaparte, “Honest” Abe Lincoln, Martin Luther King, and even kick around Richard Nixon.
As for “Political” AI characters, how about asking Vladimir Putin for his thoughts on the Russia Ukraine conflict? “AI Vlad” is available to take questions. And the other “Vlad,” Volodymyr Zelensky.
Barack Obama is on call, along with Winston Churchill. And what would politics (and the world) be without Karl Marx? No Adam Smith or Milton Friedman at the moment, alas, only John Maynard Keynes.
Still officially in beta, Character.ai itself is billed and obviously intended as AI for entertainment purposes only.
And the gamified look of the interface underscores that:
But even its entertainment comes with ominous hints of distortions that come with real consequences.
For example, that “Karl Marx” character? He comes with the byline claim: “Co-founder of Communism! Seriously Anti-Stalinist!”
Marx never lived to witness the Russian Revolution of course, and therefore we have no actual record of his thoughts on Stalin, Lenin, Mao, Fidel Castro, Pol Pot, Hugo Chavez, Kim Jong Un, Xi Jinping or any other 20th or 21st century avowed “Communist” personage or regime.
From Faked Actors to Manipulated History
The current Hollywood actors and writers strike is substantially centered around how Hollywood will use increasingly powerful AI going into the future, and how human creatives will be compensated.
The top tier of actors will likely get favorable terms and compensation, with respect to how studios use their likenesses to create AI versions.
But lower tier “working class” actors won’t fare nearly as well. Background and even supporting characters will increasingly be filled via digital animation and AI.
Writers are fighting for limits in how and the extent to which generative text based AI systems are used to create movie and TV scripts.
For example, writers are insisting that AI not be given credit for scripts, and be limited to use as a “tool” by writers, and not as an “entity” accorded writing credit.
But the use of AI to spin up synthetic characters has implications that go far beyond entertainment, as Character.ai is already showing.
Character.ai isn’t the only one doing it, though they’ve been highly successful.
“Text With Jesus,” an app powered by ChatGPT on the backend, let’s users converse with an AI “Jesus Chirist” via text messages, for free. $2.99 a month.
Mary and Joseph, and (some of) the 12 disciples are also included…
…and so is Satan (which might be more obvious to some, than others)—with access unlocked for $2.99 a month.
The growing popularity of these platforms amply demonstrates that humans are susceptible to…well, the “humanness” of conversational AI.
And that is likely to be exploited in more serious attempts to convey living “history” via AI recreations, instead of relying on historical records of what those figures actually did, said and believed.
In other words, more serious attempts to use AI to “teach” history—already teased in those incessant Meta commercials about the metaverse—are coming.
And they present an enormous opportunity to skew and distort history for current political and propaganda purposes.
Many bristle at the way courts, politicians and historians have twisted the Constitution to turn it into a “living document”—ie., a document which can be “interpreted” for the times to proscribe things it didn’t proscribe, or things actively in opposition to what it proscribes.
How much more powerful will the manipulation be, when framers of the Constitution, including George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and James Madison, can be brought to “life” via AI to answer (supposedly) thorny questions as to the meaning of various Constitutional provisions?
What will AI characters fed on the carefully curated data sets of ideologically driven tech and government technocrats say about the Russian Revolution, or the Reagan Revolution?
The illusion of the conversational existence of historical characters—the authorities on their own thoughts and beliefs—will be powerful indeed.
It will also be an intrinsic manipulation. Utterly fake, and destined to be used to propagandize, not educate.
And unfortunately, it will encompass far more than light-hearted entertainment.
TRENDPOST: The Trends Journal has covered and predicted everything from the seductiveness of conversational AI, to the ways that AI will be used to control and rewrite history, and exert thought restrictions in digital experiences like the metaverse, and even in the common productivity software people use to create content of all kinds.
For some of our touchstone articles on those topics, check out:
- “YOUR AI LOVER DOESN’T CARE ABOUT YOU (AND THAT’S WHY IT’S SO SEDUCTIVE)” (10 May 2022)
- “READY FOR AN AI COPILOT?” (21 Mar 2023)
- “AI, THE PERFECT AGENT TO REWRITE HUMAN HISTORY” (4 Apr 2023)
- “INSIGHTS ON THE TECHNOCRATIC ASCENDANCE, AND WHAT IT MEANS FOR HUMANITY” (9 May 2023)
- “HARARI: AI COULD ‘CORRECT’ THE BIBLE” (13 Jun 2023)
- “IS AMAZON LOOKING TO CANCEL HUMAN AUTHORS?” (27 Jun 2023)