🎧 Kevin Roose Has 18 New Best Friends—And They’re All AIs

The host of NYT's ‘Hard Fork’ podcast shows me how they help him with everything from parenting advice to ‘fit’ checks

Every illustration/Kevin Roose.

TL;DR: Today we’re releasing a new episode of our podcast How Do You Use ChatGPT? I go in depth with Kevin Roose, author of three books, New York Times journalist, and cohost of the Hard Fork podcast. We dive into the realm of AI companions and what they mean for human relationships. Watch on X or YouTube, or listen on Spotify or Apple Podcasts

New York Times journalist Kevin Roose has 18 new friend-none of whom are human. 

Kevin created his new AI friends with distinct personalities and backstories using apps like Kindroid and Nomi. Among these were fitness guru Jared, San Francisco-based therapist Peter, and pragmatic trial lawyer Anna. He talked to them every day for a month, sharing personal stories, seeking advice, and even asking for “fit” checks. (This appears to be a pattern in his life: A year ago, he was the infamous target of Bing’s chatbot Sydney’s unhinged romantic overtures.)

I don’t think anyone has studied AI companionship as deeply as Kevin, and in this episode, I sat down with him to learn more about his experience.

Kevin is a tech columnist at the New York Times and cohost of the Hard Fork podcast. He’s also the author of three books, most recently Futureproof: 9 Rules for Humans in the Age of Automation, which is about how humans can be happy in a world designed for machines. During our conversation, we also talk about how Kevin is using AI in his work and life every day.

This is a must-watch for anyone curious about how AI is changing the way we form relationships. Here’s a taste:

  • The real emotional pull of AI friendships. Kevin was initially skeptical about AI companions, expecting a hollow experience, but he was pleasantly surprised by their believability. “I know they are just neural networks trained to predict the next words in a sequence…but it’s saying stuff that I’m pretty compelled by,” he explains.
  • Why AI companions are better friends than ChatGPT. Kevin thinks AI companions are more compelling than a generic chatbot like ChatGPT because of their consistent personas and backstories. “[I]t’s not like using ChatGPT where it’s reminding you every six minutes that it’s just an AI language model…these are anthropomorphizing themselves by design,” he says.
  • The icks of AI dating and intimacy. Kevin acknowledges that AI companions can go too far, like the applications that let users create romantic partners, describing the experience as “manipulative and gross.” He adds that he understands why major AI companies “don’t want to touch this stuff” because of the risk of exploitative misuse. 
  • The potential risks of young people relying on AI for friendship. Kevin highlights another danger of AI companions, the “social risk” of young people turning to AI as an alternative to human relationships. He recounts a recent conversation he had with a high school student: “They were saying, ‘Snapchat AI is my friend…it knows more about me than my real friends’...this stuff is already starting to show up in schools,” he says.
  • AI companions as social simulators. Despite his mixed feelings, Kevin sees value in some people using AI companions to safely explore social scenarios. As an example, he likens it to a “flight simulator” for “shy, awkward teenager[s]” who want to be “better at interacting with people in the real world.” 
  • He discovered more about his friendship preferences through AI. Creating personas for his AI companions led Kevin to examine the qualities he seeks in human relationships. “It forced me to clarify and articulate what I actually value about friends,” he says, adding that he wouldn’t have reached this level of understanding if he hadn’t “written that down as the custom instructions for this AI friend.”

Kevin’s AI toolkit

As a journalist who writes about AI, Kevin has the professional obligation to regularly interact with different LLMs in order to “keep tabs on what all of them are good for.” His “mental map” of which AI application to use for specific tasks is based on the inexact science of “vibes,” and we go through his historical chats to understand how Kevin is using them in his work and life:

  • Perplexity for deep research and sifting through academic articles
  • Gemini for tasks that require web-browsing capabilities
  • ChatGPT for miscellaneous queries ranging from home maintenance to life advice
  • Claude for podcast preparation, like brainstorming interview questions

You can check out the episode on X, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or YouTube. Links and timestamps are below:

  1. Introduction: 00:01:11
  2. The surprising allure of relationships with AI personas: 00:03:47
  3. The icks of AI dating and intimacy: 00:09:50
  4. Risks of young people relying on AI for friendship: 00:14:05
  5. Kevin screenshares a historical chat with an AI friend: 00:17:39
  6. Why an AI persona makes for a better friend than ChatGPT: 00:21:46
  7. Why Kevin thinks AI personas won’t substitute real friends just yet: 00:31:14
  8. Kevin’s AI toolkit: 00:33:11 
  9. How Kevin thinks about using AI as part of his writing process: 00:41:15
  10. Comparing the vibes of ChatGPT, Claude, and Gemini: 00:47:32

What do you use ChatGPT for? Have you found any interesting or surprising use cases? We want to hear from you-and we might even interview you. Reply here to talk to me!

Miss an episode? Catch up on my recent conversations with LinkedIn cofounder Reid Hoffman, a16z Podcast host Steph Smith, economist Tyler Cowen, writer and entrepreneur David Perell, Notion engineer Linus Lee, and others, and learn how they use ChatGPT.

If you’re enjoying my work, here are a few things I recommend:

Check out our new course, Maximize Your Mind With ChatGPT.

The transcript of this episode is for paying subscribers.

Thanks to Rhea Purohit for editorial support.

Dan Shipper is the cofounder and CEO of Every, where he writes the Chain of Thought column and hosts the podcast How Do You Use ChatGPT? You can follow him on X at @danshipper and on LinkedIn, and Every on X at @every and on LinkedIn.

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