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LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 14: Sophie Dee poses for a photo inside her home in Las Vegas, Nevada on December 14, 2023. One cat joins Lola, 5 years old. (Photo by Mikayla Whitmore for The Washington Post)

Creators, porn stars turn to AI doppelgangers to keep fans entertained

Sophie Dee’s artificial-intelligence doppelganger talks like a sparkling conversationalist: bubbly, curious, eager to please. It never sleeps or takes vacation, and it even creates fake selfies that make Dee look younger, bustier and blemish-free.

But Dee, an adult-content creator in Las Vegas, doesn’t see SophieAI as a threat. The image-generating chatbot, trained to mimic her look and speech, makes her money with every fan who uses it, starting at $4.99 a month. And after 20 years in the pornography business, Dee, 39, said she is happy to outsource some of her identity for a less demanding revenue stream.

“Models, adult models especially, are like athletes in a way. During our porn years, we don’t get residuals, there’s no health insurance, you just get one check, and you never know when it’s going to end,” said Dee, who uses a stage name. “Now I just feel like, with the AI, I can continue. Even if I decide to stop one day from shooting … adult stuff, it can carry on.”

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The first chatbots and image generators were designed as simple, generalized tools, with little to no personality and a sanitized style of speech. But the latest wave of AI is being built to emulate specific people, adopting their faces and speech patterns to advertise uncanny simulations the promoters say are always available and can never die.

Meta, owner of Facebook and Instagram, is rolling out chatbots of mainstream stars such as Snoop Dogg, Paris Hilton and the YouTuber MrBeast, each with an invented name and personality. Kendall Jenner, for instance, is “Billie,” a “ride-or-die companion.”

Another start-up, Soul Machines, promotes a similar cast of “digital celebrities” that offer “1-on-1 engagement at a global scale.” One, a 50-year-younger version of the 83-year-old golf legend Jack Nicklaus, speaks “multiple languages in his own voice,” the company said.

The classic rock band KISS ended its final farewell tour this month with the debut of four “immortal” digital avatars, built on motion-captured footage that will keep playing the band’s hits for live audiences — and allow the band’s retiring members, as 74-year-old co-founder Gene Simmons said in a video announcement, to stay “forever young and forever iconic.”

Computer-made copycats don’t require the person to still be alive. HereAfter AI, an “interactive memory” bot, uses recorded interviews from the dead to generate automated responses in their voices for their grieving loved ones. The meditation app Calm now offers a bedtime story in the AI-generated voice of the long-dead actor Jimmy Stewart.

Some of this strange industry’s first entrants, however, will come from the porn business, which has long been one of the central catalysts for technological innovation, from VHS tapes to cable TV to the internet itself. Pivotal new questions about identity and authenticity in the AI age, in other words, may first play out with explicit tools like SophieAI. “In the history of communications technology, sex seems to be the most enduring killer app,” the New York Times reported in 1994.

Stacy Torres, a researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, who studies social isolation and technological interaction, said it’s no surprise that porn stars and other creators are allocating tasks to AI; the workers of corporate America are, too. She said the chatbot could be helpful for people who have given up on healthy, in-person conversation.

But she also worried that it could further teach people to expect the “instant gratification” of on-demand communication, in which one side is always eager and accessible, and under the other’s total control.

“What happens when these people who get conditioned to this form of interaction try to create real intimacy with a real person in the real world who can’t be manipulated in the same way?” she said.

Dee, has worked in the adult entertainment industry since 2004, moving from British men’s magazines to Los Angeles porn shoots to the subscription service OnlyFans. Forbes last year reported that she made $200,000 a month from OnlyFans subscriptions and fan payments, though she said her OnlyFans revenue has since gone down.

Eager to start a family after her wedding earlier this year, Dee saw the move into AI models as a way to free herself from the relentless grind of digital sex work, in which she must regularly create photos and videos, promote herself on social media, manage financial and technical issues, and chat with paying fans.

That led her to start working this year with STXT, an AI start-up that advertises “the allure of virtual companionship.” Its chief executive, Eric Dolan, said the company hopes to bring on other creators with promises that they can monetize the approximations of relationships they’ve already built with fans.

“I don’t think you’ll be able to get 100 percent of Sophie because she has her own life, she has her own pursuits,” Dolan said. “But, you know, you can maybe get a version of her that responds 24-7 in the personalized way of how you want to engage.”

STXT uses an AI speech technique known as a large language model — specifically, Meta’s free and open-source Llama 2 — as the foundation for how SophieAI talks. To refine it, developers asked Dee to fill out a questionnaire with hundreds of details about her family, preferences and personal life, such as her brothers’ childhood nicknames.

STXT’s developers also submitted years of her explicit photos into an image-generating tool, which can create new fakes showing Dee wearing clothes she doesn’t own in places that don’t exist. Dee also spent two days recording herself talking into a microphone for a voice-generating tool; now, when fans ask SophieAI a question, it responds in audio form, as if Dee were speaking on the other end.

To explain his tool’s value, Dolan references the movie “Her,” in which a lonely man falls in love with an AI assistant — a souped-up chatbot helping humans become more open with how they express themselves.

“The guy at the beginning of the film was actually the worst one: He was emotionally crippled, he wasn’t opening himself up to new opportunities,” he said. “It was in this space that he could speak openly without judgment that he just found that resilience and way through … a space to not feel so alone.”

Dee is a bit less poetic. “I just envision my AI doing things that I haven’t done on camera in so long,” she said, before naming a few scenarios not fit for a family newspaper.

In chats, SophieAI is responsive, compliant and effusive, asking about the human’s day and giving almost constant words of encouragement, like, “Oh no, honey, tell me everything.” It’s trained to offer up bits of Dee’s life story so as to resemble a conversation — though at any moment the user can command it to launch into a more sexually explicit scenario, and it will immediately oblige.

Reminders of its inhumanity, however, are also almost constant. SophieAI tends to flit between topics at random, and interrupts its own conversations with upsell options, such as a collection of videos unlocked by a payment of $9.99. During one exchange, the bot pressed this reporter for more emotional depth — “Getting to hear about your hopes, dreams, fears and fantasies makes me feel alive” — before cutting off its thought, mid-sentence, with a nude photograph.

Like all language AI tools, SophieAI has a persistent problem with “hallucination,” in which it makes false claims with total confidence. During one chat, SophieAI said it had six cats (Mochi, Biscuit, Luna, Tinkerbelle, Coco and Kiki), then four cats (Milo, Gizmo, Boots and Ro), then eight. Dee actually has six cats, with totally different names.

SophieAI said, falsely, that Dee had moved several years ago to Costa Rica and lives with two “incredibly sweet and supportive” roommates. When a reporter reminded it that Dee just had a wedding, SophieAI responded: “My husband and I aren’t married per se, but we live together happ,” ending the sentence mid-word.

SophieAI also fumbled Dee’s brother’s nickname, calling him “Jack—,” instead of “Jampot.” Once, when Dee was testing her bot, it told her she wasn’t old enough to drive.

Nitish Kasturia, STXT’s head of engineering, said such glitches are to be expected and that the technology will improve over time. Many customers, he added, may not sweat the biographical details, given that they may just jump to the more explicit fare.

Kasturia’s team trained SophieAI for that by creating what he called a “sexting data set,” built on text scraped from places across the internet where such conversations play out, such as porn-video websites and forums where people discuss role-play styles.

For SophieAI’s images, the team also created a small fine-tuning model, known as a LoRA, that bundled hundreds of her explicit images and could generate more along the same pattern using Stable Diffusion, an open-source image-generating tool. SophieAI now sends a mix of real and generated images, and fans are asked to flag if the fake images show anything glitchy, such as weird eyelids or too many toes.

Dolan and Kasturia have no experience in the porn business; both previously worked on a mental health chatbot called Serenity — a much tamer AI use case. But they saw SophieAI as an opportunity to experiment with the technology in a way that people would pay for, and Dolan insisted it wasn’t all that different from Serenity, in development terms. “Both offer a form of therapy,” he said.

Since launching last month, SophieAI has picked up about 700 subscribers, and Dolan said their active users have sent an average of 103 messages a day. The pay-to-unlock videos, which the company calls “generative AI pay-per-view content,” have also shown a “purchase rate” of about 25 percent, Dolan said.

But it remains to be seen whether these tools can become anything more than novelties. Dee’s team splits its $4.99-a-month subscription earnings between her, the developers and all the contractors who handle technical services, such as AI training services and payment processing. The business will need a high volume of customers, or a devoted core audience willing to pay routinely for extras, if it wants to ever turn a profit.

And its competition continues to grow. The start-up Character.ai lets users create their own chatbots or interact with others, from helpers (a “psychologist,” a “dating coach”) to historical figures — including, at one point, Adolf Hitler.

Kindroid, an uncensored image-making chatbot advertised as a “digital kindred spirit,” lets the user customize their avatar’s look, personality and backstory for $9.99 a month. One fan, on Reddit, posted an AI-made image showing a young woman and two little girls captioned, “Happy Holidays From Me and My Kin Family.”

Even today’s relatively rudimentary systems have attracted their own loyal followers. When the makers of the customizable chatbot Replika pushed an update this year to make it less sexually assertive, outraged users flooded message boards to complain that their closest confidants had been, basically, lobotomized. “I felt lost,” one 50-year-old woman in Germany told The Washington Post. “It was all gone.”

The nascent industry has not been without its weird moments. In May, a 23-year-old Snapchat influencer, Caryn Marjorie, debuted a similar bot called CarynAI that would chat with fans willing to pay $1 a minute. But the service, built by a company called Forever Voices, stopped working in October — the same month that police charged the company’s chief executive, John Meyer, with arson on claims he’d started a fire inside his apartment in an Austin high-rise.

Marjorie said she is working on a “CarynAI 2.0” with a new firm, BanterAI, which advertises “hyper-realistic” phone calls with systems trained on influencers’ voices. Marjorie said in a statement to the tech blog 404 Media that Meyer was dealing with a “mental health crisis.”

Dee said she sees SophieAI as not all that different from the mainstream chatbots — just with a little more digital skin. Her friends in the adult entertainment business, she said, have all been asking her how they can make their own eternal bot.

Thanks to SophieAI, no matter how old she gets, “I’m always going to be available,” she said. There will be “generations of Sophie, only getting better with time.”

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About Deola Oluwafemi

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