Character.AI is a new chatbot that generates facsimiles of conversations with famous personages or original creations. Napoleon Bonaparte, Billie Eilish and Ariana Grande are among the historical or contemporary characters the site recreates using a neural network. Anyone can use the free app to create a character, whether fictional or real, dead or alive, but a paid offering called c.ai+ provides perks including faster response times, priority access and early previews of new features. In addition to a website, the app launched on iOS and Android this month, triggering 700,000 Android installs within 48 hours.
According to TechCrunch, Character.AI could be the viral follow-up to ChatGPT, with “over 1.7 million new installs in less than a week on the market,” compared to “half a million downloads in its first six days” for the OpenAI chatbot.
Backed by Andreessen Horowitz, Character.AI raised $150 million in Series A funding in March for a valuation of $1 billion. The 16-month-old startup created by former Google employees Daniel De Freitas and Noam Shazeer, “offers customizable AI companions with distinct personalities, as well as the ability for users to create their own characters,” TechCrunch writes.
Shazeer and De Freitas previously directed the Google researchers that built LaMDA (Language Model for Dialogue Applications) for a conversational AI. The duo reportedly became frustrated with the pace of Alphabet’s path to commercialization, exiting the company in late 2021.
In November 2021 they founded Character Technologies, and in December they raised $43 million in an angel round. The website says the app is still in beta.
Mashable provides a “quick guide” Character.AI tutorial that says to use it, first “search for the name of a character or for the media (book, TV series, film, etc.) they’re associated with. The search results will usually show the best matches based on your keywords, with the most-chatted-with characters toward the top.” After selecting a character, “a window will open. The character will introduce themselves first, then you can get to gabbing.”
Apparently Character Technologies does not license likeness rights for the real people — including Mark Zuckerberg, Stephen Hawking, Oprah Winfrey and Lady Gaga — populating its site. That’s because “everything characters say is made up!” the website cheerfully advises.
Presumably, when the characters are real, the models train on their online record to approximate dialogue, which could raise IP concerns. As for the user-generated content, Character.AI has posted its terms of service that specify rights to any characters created by users.
Chatbot Startup Character.AI Rolls Out First Mobile Apps, Bloomberg, 5/24/23
One-Third of People Can’t Tell a Human from an AI. Here’s Why That Matters, The Verge, 5/31/23