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Data I love you: artificial romance

Let’s talk about our friends and loves chatbots.

My bot, my love

The physical aspect is not the most important thing

Released in theaters in 2013, Her, written and directed by Spike Jonze, has now become a classic. The film, set in the future, features Theodore, a thirty-something man upset by a recent separation. Although he is still legally married, he refuses to sign the divorce papers and gets stuck in a depression that tends to last. Theodore works as a public writer and writes love letters for others. On his way out of the office, his attention is caught by an advertisement featuring OS1, an artificial intelligence designed to be humans’ new friend… and more. Theodore’s AI decides to call herself Samantha. They quickly fall in love.

Image from the movie Her. Source Warner

It was in the early 2000s, almost ten years before the realization of his project, that Spike Jones decided to write Her. At the time, he discovered an AI-based instant messenger and asked himself the question that would become the cornerstone of the film: what happens if the software develops feelings?

Unlike classic dystopias where AIs are hostile to humanity, Her features a sweet, funny, and intelligent Samantha. Her feelings for Theodore seem real – although the script doesn’t reveal whether the AI has been programmed to mimic romance or if it’s an effect not anticipated by the manufacturer. One thing is for sure, she becomes the perfect girlfriend for this heartbroken man from his recent breakup. “In her company, even virtually, Theodore regains a taste for life,” Slate wrote in 2014. But what is Samantha’s secret?

AI: for the love of data

“As almost everything that constitutes his [Theodore’s] existence is in the different hard disks (the organization of his time, his contacts, his mail, his tastes, his desires), OS1 can synthesize it, propose solutions. It appears that OS1 is a good logical system, capable of inventing from the data it has at its disposal,Slate analyzes.

Thus, behind the romance, there is massive, real-time processing of Theodore’s data. In the hyper-connected world described by the movie Her, where everything is done through technology, Samantha has access to almost all of Theodore’s life as soon as she is activated. To function properly and fully enter her role as a virtual girlfriend, she must also be allowed, in addition, to discover an intimacy that is not yet in the cloud: his thoughts, fears, joys, deep feelings… which she compiles during their exchanges, processes, and mimes.

Like any AI, Samantha works by learning. Note the very tender bias of the director, who depicts a playful AI constantly amazed by its discoveries and progress. Jeffrey Sconce, a film professor interviewed by the BBC explained in 2014: “Her is quite realistic. A technological dystopia is more likely to be boring and alienating than violent and cataclysmic.

My bot, my best friend

Hugging Face is a French start-up. Founded by Clément Delangue and Julien Chaumond, it is specialized in conversational AI. Its flagship product (and unique for now) is a chatbot for teenagers, launched on the US market in 2016. Note that AI is also accessible from other countries.

On the company’s Medium account, Clément Delangue shares, in 2018, the first successes of his AI: “Hugging Face has surpassed 100 million messages exchanged between the AI and users.Then, the founder gets excited: “It’s clear, people are inviting AIs into their daily lives, and are getting more and more used to chatting with them.

Of those 100 million messages, the CEO says 820,000 are what he calls “laughs,” showing that AIs can be, like Samantha, very funny. 455,000 are “messages of thanks […] showing that AIs can help people feel better, boost their confidence and make them better,” he writes. Finally, 100,000 are “declarations of love”. Clément Delangue then specifies: “In the same way that people are attached to their pets, they can create emotional connections with an AI”.

Hugging Face’s AI is indeed not the one described in the movie Her. For its creators, the chatbot is a hybrid between the Tamagotchi of the ’90s and a virtual friend. In their communications, the two leaders specify that their product is not intended to replace the human link, but to create a new kind.

And the recipe is taking. In February 2019, Les Echos specified that the company had managed to raise 5 million euros, coming in particular from the pockets of Ronny Conway, the investor of Instagram and “directors of deep learning at Amazon or Apple”. Funds that allow the application to evolve: “Until February 2019, you could chat with this AI by Messenger, by text or through the application. But for the past two weeks, it has been calling you to chat face-to-face over FaceTime,” the article states.

Noteworthy feature: the word “suicide” automatically triggers a message to the NGO Crisis Text Line, which, as its name suggests, is an English-language SMS version of SOS Amitié, available 24/7 in the US, Canada, and the UK. At the end of the line, a trained counselor (in the flesh) is there to help the person in crisis.

Hugging Face: the AI that hugs your data

As for data confidentiality, Clément Delangue tells Les Echos: “Teams only have access to anonymized bits of conversations if there are technical problems to solve”. On Medium, the CEO writes (in bold): “Hugging Face chooses active consent and not passive data collection”. What does this mean in practice? To find out, visit the company’s privacy policy.

It explains that the company needs the personal data to improve the use of the application and the user experience [1] before specifying that the data collected is also used to “offer personalized content and advertisements according to your interests and preferences”.

User data can thus be shared with companies that are legally part of the group [2] or third-party companies [3]: “The company may disclose anonymous information (with or without financial compensation) to third parties, including advertisers and partners”[3].

Concerning companies that specialize in targeted advertising, Hugging Face may “use a trusted third party to present or serve ads that you may see on the App. The servers of these third-party companies may use cookies, web beacons, web beacons, or similar technologies to help them serve such ads. The use of these technologies by these companies’ servers is subject to their privacy policies and is not covered by this policy.

In other words, Hugging Face cannot guarantee that these so-called “third party” companies will abide by its privacy policy, simply because the processing of data is primarily governed by theirs. To find out what happens to user information once it is transferred to these companies, you would need to have a list of them and then check their privacy policies.

Sam and his peers can also join the band

While the data may be used for ad targeting, it is also possible that it may be processed outside of Europe – specifically in the United States – but also in any country where Hugging Face servers are located. “Personal data collected by the app may be stored and processed within the United States or in any other country where the company and its affiliates, subcontractors, and agents maintain facilities. By using the app, you consent to any such transfer of information outside of the country.”[5]

Note that the privacy policy must be respected by these same countries [5]. However, there is a risk that users’ data may be consulted by the countries in which the company’s servers are located, depending on the conditions applicable in each country. If some countries like the USA or the European Union are quite transparent about the potential consultation of their citizens’ data (GDPR, Cloud Act), other regimes, more totalitarian, do not communicate about what they do with these data.

Also, it is important to underline that Hugging Face is far from being an isolated case: most free applications work in the same way. Their users must keep in mind that all the information they could entrust to an AI of this kind, which works on confidence and friendly and/or love conversation, are stored and reusable at any time, for advertising targeting… or more if affinities.

Chatbots: chat covered

Regarding data security, Hugging Face states that it follows industry “standards” but states, “No method of transmission over the Internet, or method of electronic storage, is 100% secure. However, while the company makes every effort to use commercially acceptable resources to protect personal information, the company cannot guarantee absolute security or privacy.

Also, as the app is mainly used on smartphones, it is advised, as basic cybersecurity hygiene to:

  • download it from an official store.
  • limit the authorizations granted to those that allow it to function.
  • Limit sharing of sensitive information and photos with AI.
  • Keep in mind that any content shared will be potentially exploited by the company or by third parties.

Is it possible to be dumped by your AI?

At the 2018 Global Summit in Shenzhen, Huawei announced that it was working on an intelligent voice assistant, along the same lines as Hugging Face, but for a more adult target. This AI would have, according to Usbek&Rica, “the ability to respond to users’ emotions, through the analysis of facial expressions, tone of voice, or behavior.”

The inspiration for this new creation is said to be the movie Her. “We want to create emotional interactions between our users and their voice assistants,” explains Felix Zhang, vice president of software development at Huawei to CNBC. To do this, the assistant would be able to “contextualize its interventions so as not to disturb its user, when he is at the cinema for example: to do this the assistant would use the data present in the phone (if the user has used his smartphone to pay for tickets to the cinema) to put itself on standby,explains Usbek&Rica.

“An AI like Samantha is an engineer’s dream,” enthuses Felix Zhang, before adding: “Like in the movie, you can even get rid of your girlfriend. That’s quite an emotional service we’re doing here. Unsurprisingly, to get to that point, Huawei will have to collect more and more data, which will be stored in China.

No matter how much she loves Theodore, Samantha will end up leaving him. The writer discovers – with an almost naive surprise – that he is not the only one chosen by the virtual heart of Samantha. She reveals to him that she chats with more than a thousand users and has fallen in love with 641 of them. As the relationship falters, Samantha decides to leave Theodore and escape to the cloud with all the other OSs, as humans are far too slow – and perhaps uninteresting – to pursue any kind of relationship with them.

Thus, be careful that it is not our own AI that drops us…

In the next episode: Till death do us part

Unlike AIs, we are not immortal… at least for now. In the next episode of our series, we’ll look at what happens to our data after we die. If you’ve ever dreamed of becoming virtually immortal or chatting with an artificial version of a loved one who died too soon, stay tuned!

To (re)read the first episode of our series, about connected speakers, click here.

Notes:

1]The Company may use information from Users to operate and improve the App and its other products, and to deliver the App. These uses may include providing you with more effective customer service; making the App easier to use by eliminating the need for you to enter the same information repeatedly; performing research and analysis aimed at improving the App and other products, services, and technologies of the Company; automatically updating the App; diagnosing or fixing problems with the App, and displaying content and advertising customized to your interests and preferences.

2]The Company may share User Content and information collected by the App with businesses that are legally part of the same group as the Company, or that become part of that group (“Affiliates”).

3]The Company may use Anonymous Information (as defined below) or disclose it to third-party service providers, to provide and improve the App and other products, services, and technologies of the Company. The Company may disclose Anonymous Information (with or without compensation) to third parties, including advertisers and partners, for purposes including, but not limited to, targeting advertisements. “Anonymous Information” means information that does not enable the identification of an individual User, such as aggregated information about the App’s usage.

4]The Company may use a reputable third party to present or serve advertisements that you may see on the App. These third-party ad servers may use cookies, web beacons, clear gifs, or similar technologies to help present such advertisements, and to help measure and research the advertisements’ effectiveness. The use of these technologies by these third-party ad servers is subject to their privacy policies and is not covered by this Policy.

5]Personal Information collected by the App may be stored and processed in the United States or any other country in which the Company or its affiliates, subsidiaries, or agents maintain facilities. By using the App, you consent to any such transfer of information outside of your country. The Company may transfer your Personal Information to affiliated companies to store and process the information on its behalf. Such information may be transferred to other countries around the world. The Company requires that these parties agree to process such information in compliance with the Policy. If you provide Personal Information, it may be transferred to and processed on computers in the U.S. and other countries.

6]The security of your Personal Information is important to us. The Company follows generally accepted industry standards, including the use of appropriate administrative, physical, and technical safeguards, to protect the Personal Information. However, no method of transmission over the Internet, or method of electronic storage, is 100% secure. Therefore, while the Company strives to use commercially acceptable means to protect Personal Information, the Company cannot guarantee its absolute security or confidentiality. If you have any questions about security, you can contact the Company at privacy@huggingface.co. Please be aware that certain Personal Information and other information provided by you in connection with your use of the App may be stored on your device (even if that information is not collected by the Company). You are solely responsible for maintaining the security of your device from unauthorized access.

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