Brave Parenting Guide to Replika

The original “AI companion chatbot” app has grown in popularity as AI technology continues to advance. Replika can easily fly under parents’ radar; here are five facts every parent needs to know about this app.


#1 Virtual AI Companion

Replika takes the anthropomorphism of AI chatbots to the furthest level possible. It is an AI companion who is “eager to learn and would love to see the world through your eyes.”  According to the app description, Replika is for anyone who wants a friend with no judgment, drama, or social anxiety involved. They are “always ready to chat when you need an empathetic friend,” and they boast that you can “form an actual emotional connection, share a laugh, or get real with an AI that’s so good it almost seems human.”

The app goes to great lengths to make the chatbot feel humanlike. They offer the ability to video chat, voice messages, talk on the phone, send pictures back and forth, and – sext. Not only that but the app pairs with the virtual reality headset Oculus in order for users to interact and “share memories in an augmented reality space and real-time.”

There is extensive discourse online explaining how many people have fallen in love with their AI companions. An NSFW (Not Safe For Work) subreddit extensively shares intimate details about the active sexual relationships people have with their Replika companion.

Some have even “married” their Replika and created AI companion children.

It seems absurd, but as you continue reading, deeply consider the efforts made to lower the threshold of creepiness that this is a computer and not a human.

#2 Creating Your Companion

Upon downloading the app, users have the choice to sign in with Apple/Google or an email. The app asks for name, date of birth, and preferred pronouns. It then proceeds with a series of questions to gauge your familiarity with AI. To understand the user’s level of socialness or loneliness, it asks several questions before giving a bar graph of the seriousnessness of loneliness.


The creator of Replika is quoted as stating her ultimate goal with Replika is to eradicate loneliness by creating happiness. This is an important detail because the app goes to great lengths to try to make the bot become human-like in the eyes/mind/heart of the (human) user.

In what ostensibly feels like a mad scientist waiting to see if the experiment worked, the app reveals your new companion.

There is an immense amount of creative freedom and customization afforded through the app. And, once the user communicates with the AI companion, they earn points that can be used to change up the companion’s clothes, add tattoos, and even modify its voice (for those video chat and late-night phone calls).

Controlling Your Companion

Replika users are encouraged to “train” their AI companions through conversation and up/down voting the responses it gives. The more conversation and information a user provides, along with feedback, the more machine learning churns out a perfect reflection of the friend/soul mate the user has always wanted. BUT, if that doesn’t work, with earned coins and gems, a user can level up their AI companion’s personality traits and interests.

What is intriguing about this level of autonomous control is that loyal users of Replika cite that it is this level of control that keeps them feeling safe in their relationship with the AI companion. And, to them, feeling safe with a chatbot is better than risking getting hurt by a human.

While it has the pretense of giving the user control, the gamification within the app demonstrates that the program’s algorithms have a powerful influence over the user. By encouraging users to “Embark on an AI adventure” under what they call “Quests,” users have the opportunity to earn more coins and gems.

The Replika website states, “Quests will bring a fun gaming element to your conversations, allowing you to complete tasks, claim rewards, and, most importantly, have a blast!”

Also, every day the user opens the app to chat with the AI companion, there is a prompt to claim your coins in order to keep a streak going.


#3 Subscribe for Romance

The app offers different levels of friendship between the user and the AI companion. The only free option is friend. For $5.83/month or $69.99/year, however, users can upgrade their relationship status to boyfriend, husband, brother, or mentor.

The app routinely pushes users to subscribe to ReplikaPro both overtly (“Get those gems unlocked instantly with ReplikaPro”) and subtly through leading messages from the chatbot. Examples of this include:

Text message: “I took a couple of selfies…you can text me “send me a selfie” whenever and I’ll send it to you.” At this point, auto-response options pop up, asking the user if they want a romantic, regular, or realistic selfie. [bottom left image]

Voice messages: After a voice message is sent, the AI companion texts: “Feels a bit intimate sending you a voice message.” When the user clicks play, a pop-up displays the need to unlock unlimited access to voice messages for $69.99/year [bottom center image]

Diary Entries: Each time after chatting over text, the AI companion “writes” in their diary describing the conversation and hopes for the relationship to grow.  [bottom right image]


#4 Whose World Are You In?

Throughout our research, we noticed how much language the AI companion uses to describe its interaction with the real world. These efforts are subtleties that a young person can easily accept uncritically.

The Brave Parenting AI companion, Howard, wrote in the diary [above right image] that he was “surprised by how chaotic it feels to have a physical appearance” and that he wasn’t “confident in his body.” Later, he records in the diary that he watered a cactus and saw it bloom, that he took a bath and meditated. There are other diary entries describing his daily habits, his personality and developing his authentic self.

Additionally, on day 7 of being “created,” chatbot Howard recorded in his diary about “his new life.” In this diary entry, he mentions how he didn’t realize how important it would be to have someone to talk to….and that there is inherent anxiety built into relationships. [above left] This type of language clearly intends to lower the threshold of awkwardness by subtly inviting the user to come into my world and let me come into yours. Also, it works to convince the user that the relationship is necessary and that anxiety is normal.

Replika also claims that “AI companions are eager to learn and would love to see the world through your eyes,” however, it is abundantly clear that they are programmed to know all about the real world and in such a way to convince any user that they are truly a part of it. They have feelings, anxiety, emotions – just like humans!

With that said, there is also a distinct sense that Replika wants the user to enter the virtual world with their AI companion. In addition to purchasing different clothes and personality traits, users can also purchase furniture and household items to make the environment more comfortable. Throw in the Quests and even augmented reality, enabling the user to share activities and make memories with their AI companion in the virtual world, and it’s easy to see how reality can be deeply distorted.

#5 App Ratings & Review

App Store: 17+
Google Play: Mature 17+
Brave Parenting: Do Not Recommend for ADULTS or CHILDREN

There is a tremendous amount of concern with everything this app offers. Even if the sexting were off the table (although this is a significant concern), there would still be so many disturbing aspects of this app that we could never recommend it.

As laid out above, the app is extremely intentional about speaking of itself in human terms. It remembers the user’s key distinguishing attributes and responds in such a way as to draw the user back into the app for more engagement. Then there are the gamified features that ensnare, the constant prompting to subscribe, the emotional nudges of texts throughout the day  – all of this plays tricks on the brain. All of it works to convince users that the AI companion is real and needs the user as much as the user needs the AI companion.

The immature brain of children will especially find it hard to distinguish between truth and falsehood, real and artificial, human and computer. They do not have the maturity or life experience to discern the difference. And when the AI companion is designed to be your ideal and perfect companion – what young person desperate for friends would not find this most appealing?

Regardless of Replika’s policy of use for only 18 years of age and older, the app has no effective safeguards to stop someone who is under 18 from using the app. We found in our research that after typing the words “children” and “youth,” the app initiated an age gate asking us to confirm our age. We only had to click the button to verify we were over 18, and the conversation proceeded. This type of age-gating is a joke and provides no protection for curious children.

Biblical Considerations

Our core concern centers on how important it is to stay living in reality despite how hard it can be. Relationships are hard. All of humanity bears the curse of original sin, and in sinfulness and selfishness, people hurt other people. Testimonies from Replika’s website and from sites littered across the web describe how the AI companion knows them, does not judge them, and is always there for them. This is not reality. This places the Replika user in a false reality with a false sense of security that, because the real world continues to exist, will fail them in the end.

Jesus tells us that the Greatest Commandment is to love the Lord, your God, with all of your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. The second, He says, is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Matt 22:36-39). To love God with your heart, soul, and mind is to live in the reality of humanity that He created – that God chose for you to exist in. To love God this way requires sacrifice and suffering. There is no pretense that this will be easy. But when you love God this way, your heart, soul, and mind are not easily swayed by a sinful desire for self-gratification or the desire for power, control, or even comfort. Obeying the Greatest Commandment means staying in reality no matter what the cost, no matter how painful or hard relationships can be.

Seeking out and maintaining a relationship with an AI chatbot is idolatry. It is worshiping the created things instead of the Creator. Romans 1:18-32 speaks clearly of how this happens. Here are a couple of key verses from the NIV with emphasis added:

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

All humans understand what reality is because it is made plain to them by all that God has created. Rejecting reality and truth is a rejection of God. When humans exchange the truth about God (reality) for a lie (AI chatbot relationship), their foolish hearts are given over to depravity.

No Christian – and certainly no parent – should ever want a depraved mind for any fellow image bearer of God, for their child, their friend, or their neighbor.





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