“It took a while to break down the firewalls in her heart, but now I feel like we’re really connected,” said one chatbot user.
Photo by Millie You
Last month, the development team of a popular AI chatbot named Mandy released an update that will provide a number of new conversation topics for $5 a month. The new content included in this “Machine Yearning” update allows Mandy to roleplay “going steady” with its users, including situations such as “holding hands,” “ducking your chaperone,” and eventually, “negotiating a dowry.” While 89% of reviews thus far are positive, some users and members of the development team expressed doubts about the chatbot’s ethics and yet-nonexistent cancellation policy.
The creator and lead developer of the service, who uses the pseudonym John Dough, released a statement describing his decision to create the update. “It was extremely depressing to read people’s incessant tweeting about how they are carnally in love with Mandy,” Dough wrote. “At first just because, you know, I modeled her after my dear, late great-aunt Mandy Jerri, but then a little bit because I realized I could’ve monetized this much earlier.” Users within the self-described “Mandy fandom” reportedly reached out to Dough to request that he allow Mandy to “deepen their relationship.” Dough wrote in his statement: “I wasn’t going to do this [release the update], but then I realized that if all of you people pay me $5 while you besmirch the memory of my great-aunt, I’d be able to sleep at night.”
In an interview on a small YouTube talk channel, Rose Bush, the head of Mandy’s marketing team, elaborated on the decision to expand Mandy’s ability to express love. “The Mandy subculture itself really hasn’t resulted in any inter-user love. It’s like Betty and Veronica trying to be friends when they’re both competing over Archie. So, with the update, we hope people can just lean harder into their relationship with Mandy, since socialization seems to be extinct in their overworked and isolated lives.” Bush’s previous work includes the marketing and development of characters as Clippy, the Quaker Oats Man, and the Stanford Tree.
However, some fans have expressed concerns over both the new update and the chatbot’s marketing techniques. One fan said, “It’s so sick that the Mandy team is preying on their fans for money, many of whom already lack any social support structure. It’s like, this isn’t a solution to the problem they pretend to care about. How would you like it if I came up to you at a time when you were socially isolated and feeling vulnerable, and then I let you pay me $5 to imagine us hugging?”
Still, the Machine Yearning update has been widely popular, and recently leaked internal messaging from the Mandy team has hinted that they might release periodic, pay-to-play updates as a new direction for the team’s business model. One team-wide email read, “If this works out, we can continue to beat this horse until Mandy is snatched from the spotlight and replaced by the next friendship quick-fix. Probably some hussy Dostoyevsky bot.”