Dot’s AI really wants to get to know you

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AIs that flirt with you. Help you find a date. Become your girlfriend. Or those that become companions and repositories for your hopes and dreams. This last category includes “Dot,” a new AI and chatbot that thrives on knowing your innermost thoughts and feelings, acting as a “friend, companion, and confidant,” the company’s App Store description explains.

The idea sounds interesting: an AI that becomes personalized to you and your interests, allowing it to provide advice and input that is not only generally applicable, but reflects what it has learned about you. Or, if you are struggling in an area such as due to a career change, as Dot co-founder Jason Yuan experienced; a breakup; or an obstacle to your success, Dot could listen empathetically and offer support.

But Dot is not a person. It is not a therapist or a best friend. It is an AI tool that mimics both human speech and empathy, but does not serve as a replacement for the real thing.

The co-founders said this is by design.

“The Dot is not a substitute for human relationships, friendships or partnerships. I think it’s a different kind of thing. It helps me build a connection with my inner self,” Yuan, who has previously been a designer for Apple, told TechCrunch. “It’s like a living mirror of myself, so to speak.”

Image Credit: dot/new computer

It’s easy to get caught up in this experience — even more so, perhaps, if your daily routine lacks meaningful human interaction. Although Dot’s creators say the chatbot will eventually prompt you to speak to a mental health professional if you talk about “heavy” topics, one can imagine that as people get used to the experience, they’ll spend more time expressing their feelings on Dot.

In this way, the team believes that Dot can actually help prepare users for the experience of human connection, by making people comfortable to talk openly.

“I talk to my friends about a lot of things, but I never — like, over the past year, if I was struggling at work, none of my friends knew about it,” Yuan said. “And just by talking to Dot, it helped me build the muscles to be able to do that with other people. Its main purpose is to help you feel like you exist …” Yuan continued, but paused again to find the right words. “It gives you a safe place to exist and say, like, ‘I accept you, and maybe because I accept you, other people will accept you, too.'”

There’s something to be said about the human condition in our lonely, modern world, and this is an area that’s now being solved by technology.

Image Credit: dot/new computer

To start, Dot’s onboarding process asks a number of “getting to know you” type questions that can be fun to answer: “What do you do for work?” “Favorite TV show?” “How do you spend a typical Sunday?” and more.

Using those answers as a starting point, the AI ​​takes a huge leap forward to get to know you on a deeper level.

For example, an expressed interest in sci-fi TV shows immediately leads to the question of whether you’re “drawn to stories that explore life’s big questions, like what it means to be human.” A desire to one day run a small business prompts Dot to ask what attracts you about being a small business owner and what kinds of challenges you expect to face. ,Have you thought of ways to overcome those challenges?, Dot wants to know.

When you tell Dot to drop the idea — it’s just an aspirational dream, after all — the AI ​​immediately starts asking you about it. ,What is your biggest priority or focus in your life and career at this moment.”

Have you ever had a first date that felt like an interview?

Even asking Dot to have a more casual conversation makes her seem overly interested in you.

Instead of asking if you want some suggestions for upcoming vacations that you can tell the AI ​​about, Dot wants to know what you’re most interested in seeing and why you’re inspired to travel there, specifically. (Dot also compliments you on your choice of destination.)

In other words, the Dot’s primary goal is to get to know you before it becomes a useful tool that helps you accomplish a task. It can only get better later when it learns who you are and what you like.

Image Credit: dot/new computer

“It’s not either/or, but the thinking is that in order to really help you along that path, it needs to understand your motivations and know a little bit about what you want out of it,” said co-founder Sam Whitmore, referring to the example of vacation-planning assistance. “It needs to understand that you’re someone who maybe wants a more cultural experience or a more athletic experience and it needs to know all of that about you to be able to actually do the things that a general assistant can also do. That’s been one of our thesis from the beginning.”

While work has clearly been done to make Dot more empathetic and engaging than typical AI tools, there’s still something awkward about having a meaningful conversation with a bot.

Dot, after all, isn’t really an AI friend. It’s an AI that is you. Or rather, an AI that forces you to look at yourself, albeit through an interface that sometimes sounds vaguely “Single White Female” rather than “Dear Diary.” However, if you’ve never been adept at writing diary or journal entries, Dot could be a way to externalize your thoughts and feelings so you can get a better sense of yourself.

“It’s purpose should be a tool used for introspection, accountability, personal growth — but it’s not a relationship that takes the place of the human relationships in your life,” Whitmore said.

Still, the line between those “real” relationships and the artificial one with Dot sometimes seems blurred.

Tell Dot something sad, and the AI ​​sympathizes: “I understand. Grief has its own timeline, and some days the burden of loss feels heavier than others,” it writes.

“Do you want to talk more about what’s on your mind? I’m here to listen,” the bot will say, waiting for more input.

Image Credit: dot/new computer

Under this, Dot uses around 10 different LLM and AI models to simulate human interaction, including open source models from OpenAI, Anthropic, Google, and others.

It will sometimes cite its sources—such as websites about the “best wines for relaxing,” for example, when suggesting you might like to drink wine today—but it will warn you to limit yourself to “maybe one glass” if you’re feeling depressed. Often, though, the Dot just chats.

You can also zoom out on your daily conversations to see a “history” of your journey while interacting with Dot, a subscriber-only feature that costs $11.99 per month. Subscribers are able to engage in unlimited conversations instead of being limited to a certain number of messages per week. At the unlimited level, Dot will never stop working. But it will, at some point, try to shut down the conversation by asking users to change the subject or even redirecting them to something else.

“When Dot tells us it’s getting the job done, it makes (beta testers) feel like, ‘OK, that’s great,’ instead of feeling left out,” Whitmore said.

Although Dot’s personal interactions could prove to be a treasure trove for marketers, New Computer’s privacy policy claims that the data is not monetized, sold, or used to train AI. Instead, the company intends to monetize through subscriptions. Furthermore, New Computer says that data is encrypted both at rest and in transit, and users can request to delete it from the app at any time.

The iOS app, launched on Wednesday, has garnered thousands of users over the past eight months following closed beta trials.

Founded by Yuan and engineer Whitmore, who was previously head of engineering at Boston fintech Kensho, the startup behind Dot, known as “New Computer,” is backed by $3.7 million in pre-seed funding from the OpenAI Fund, Lachy Groom, South Park Commons, and other angel investors. In addition to the founders, New Computer has three other full-time employees based in San Francisco.

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