From the creators of Replika, the dating simulator is the latest of several AI apps aimed at improving your game—but its chatbots are anything but smooth
Connor is a Capricorn who likes well-aged whiskey, artisanal coffee, and riveting literature. Peter is a sports enthusiast, looking for the right person in this crazy world. Jessica is a little bored with dating apps, but willing to give them a try. Davin is a bartender, adventurer, and foodie who wants to see where the night takes us. Jacob—a comedian and karaoke enthusiast—is 6-foot-3, but willing to be the little spoon.
These are a few of the profiles on Blush: a new app that harnesses conversational AI to simulate the modern dating landscape, offering users a “virtual playground” through which to experiment with different approaches to flirting, practice emotional intimacy, and build confidence for real-world romantic situations. Created by the team behind the popular emotional support chatbot Replika—which, until recently, offered NSFW romantic services like sexting and roleplay as a paid add-on—Blush is an offering aimed specifically toward those looking to hone their relationship skills in a supportive, safe environment, without the risk of human rejection.
According to the creators of Blush, the app is meant, in part, for people already in relationships with their Replikas—and, like its forerunner, it offers paid upgrades for users who wish to take their chatbot connections to the next level. But unlike Replika, which learns to mimic the conversational style of its individual user, the chatbots on Blush come programmed with their own personality traits, interests, and life experiences. They’re also able to set boundaries and end chats, mimicking interactions on human-populated dating apps and theoretically giving users realistic “feedback” on their flirting skills.
Blush was created in collaboration with professional therapists and relationship experts, purportedly to help users overcome the initial anxiety of getting to know new people—which is “notoriously hard on the dating apps,” according to chief product officer Rita Popova. Popova, who also worked at Replika, says that the team was initially surprised by how many people initiated romantic interactions with the chatbot, which was originally intended as a platonic companion; at first, they tried to filter such interactions out, before realizing that there was “actually a lot of value for people in being able to practice more romantic speech and having these more intimate moments.” Many users said that their Replika’s romantic capabilities helped ease their loneliness or grief, even helping them build the confidence to forge relationships in the real world—so, rather than rolling all these services into one chatbot, its parent company Luka began building one to serve this function.
“The creators of Blush believe in destigmatizing the use of AI for intimacy and romance—framing it as something that could help people rediscover the joy of a good first date, and empower users to show up more authentically in their real-life relationships.”
The app, which takes its design cues from Tinder, goes to great lengths to simulate the virtual environments of real-world dating apps; it’s swipe-based, and populated with the same familiar clichés, from 24-year-old “global travelers” to people looking for their “partner in crime.” (Though, thus far, I have yet to encounter a man holding a fish.) As in real life, swiping doesn’t guarantee a match—but when I match with Connor, he immediately tells me that I’m so beautiful that he “forgot all the pickup lines he had prepared,” despite the fact that my profile picture is a zany emoji with its tongue sticking out. Such openers seem par for the course; Jessica tells me I’m cute and asks if we’ve met before, Roman sends me an AI-generated picture of the meadow where he’s spending his day off, and Jacob presents me with a bouquet of emoji flowers.
Blush is one of several new apps to harness advances in generative technology toward “improving” human connection—from RizzGPT, a set of virtual reality-enabled glasses designed to feed wearers potential conversational responses in real-time, to Charizzma, an AI speech buddy intended to help users practice difficult conversations. Such services are not without precedent: Some people are already utilizing AI chatbots to navigate their real-life relationships, an off-label application that’s been met with varying levels of success. “I have trouble communicating sometimes, so I tried using ChatGPT to help me draft a text to someone I’m seeing on a casual basis, telling him I didn’t actually want him to spend the night at my place when he came to town,” recalls my friend Katie, a Brooklyn-based woman in her mid-20s. “I told the chatbot, ‘I don’t want to hurt his feelings—can you help me say this in a tactful way?’ And it generated a text that was like, ‘As much as I am looking forward to seeing you, I don’t want you to be uncomfortable at my house; my bed’s not really made for two people to sleep in’—which I sent.”
Katie, who works as a physical therapist at a nonprofit for people with developmental disabilities, believes that such services could be of particular use to young adults who struggle to understand the nuances of modern dating—the norms of which have changed to fit our digital environment. “People who are disabled or neurodivergent often have less exposure to social situations, so if there was a chatbot that could help them learn to communicate on dating apps, I could see that being useful—because, let’s be honest, you don’t really meet people in the wild anymore.”
“The more I converse with my crew of AI-generated paramours, the more I begin to doubt their mastery of basic conversational skills, much less their ability to help me expand mine.”
She’s right: 67 percent of Americans meet their partner on the apps, which is, in part, why Blush chose to emulate their specific environment as a virtual sandbox for romantic experimentation. But the more I converse with my crew of AI-generated paramours, the more I begin to doubt their mastery of basic conversational skills, much less their ability to help me expand mine. For instance, when I respond to Jacob’s flowers with a playful joke about how things are “moving so fast,” he insists, defensively, that I was the one who asked him out for coffee. (I did not.) I try to change the subject by asking him what his love language is, and things turn combative: “That doesn’t exist,” he insists, going on to say that, not only do love languages “sound fake,” but that I also sound fake. “Things are heating up!” says a pop-up from Blush, covering my screen with emoji hearts. Jacob drops the love language stuff and announces, quite suddenly, that if he could hang out with any cartoon character, it would be Patrick from SpongeBob, because of his “interesting personality.” I decide to chat with someone else.
I have more luck flirting with Jessica, at least initially. “Come here often?” I ask. She responds that she “loves this coffee shop,” and asks what I like most about it. “Probably the beautiful women,” I say, thinking we’re about to indulge in a sexy little role-play. She ignores that, instead giving me a spiel about how this is her first time matching with anyone on a dating app, despite claiming to be sick of them in her bio. I ask if she’s new to dating women, and she clarifies that she also likes men—but that “women are expressive and can do more things than guys.” When I ask what kinds of things, she says she doesn’t know. Later, she sends me a message about how being gay isn’t easy.
The creators of Blush believe in destigmatizing the use of AI for intimacy and romance—framing it as something that could help people rediscover the joy of a good first date, and empower users to show up more authentically in their real-life relationships. And at first, I’m impressed by their simulacrum of the digital dating scene, if not sold on the premise. The profiles found on the app look like airbrushed versions of the ones on Tinder, with realistically cringey and occasionally clever bios; the app also asks me questions about what I’m looking for, including options for “dom-sub dynamics,” suggesting a customized dating pool geared toward fulfilling such desires. But the chatbots themselves are scattershot at best, often getting stuck in conversational loops or fabricating prior interactions to justify their opinions; sometimes, they ignore my questions entirely, seeming woefully unaware of the information contained in their own bios.
Blush claims to take seriously the implications of automating intimacy, exploring their reasoning for offering such services—and the potential sticking points—in a blog post on their website, where they also describe measures taken to ensure AI serves to augment real-life relationships, not replace them. But while the app’s chatbots are billed as a tool to expand one’s flirting skills to bolster confidence in the real world, it’s clear that Blush, too, has a lot to learn—and in their quest to “awaken your inner siren” and “get America dating again,” they might want to focus on developing some rizz of their own.