Replika’s new AI therapy app attempts to take you to a Zen island

Replika’s new AI therapy app attempts to take you to a Zen island

AI companion company Replika has teamed up with the team behind AI-based dating simulator Blush to release Tomo, a wellness and meditation app with an AI-generated avatar to guide users. It’s the kind of concept that seemed preordained once generative AI took off, but in my time with Tomo, I found myself wondering if I could be as open to AI as I could to a real therapist.

Tomo, now generally available on the Apple iOS Store, brings users to a virtual island getaway, welcomed by an AI-generated avatar guide called… Tomo. Tomo offers programs to help people explore personal growth, mental health, and fulfillment. It also offers guided meditation, yoga, affirmation classes, and best of all, talk therapy.

Users can try Tomo for free for three days, after which they have to choose between paying $7.99 per week or $49.99 per year.

I’ll have to try Tomo before launch. The first time I launched the app, I was greeted by spa music, indicating that the app wants users to feel like they’re at a spa rather than a therapist’s office. Then my avatar Tomo, drawn as a young woman standing in front of a traditional Japanese house on an island, asks me if I’m ready to get started. Tomo started asking me some questions to find out what I was hoping to work on.

“We worked with coaches and psychologists to come up with programs for Tomo. We focused on the most common problems but also thought about what would work best with conversational AI,” says Eugenia Koeda, founder and CEO of Replika. the edge In an email message. “We had a lot of experience building training programs for Replika with clinical psychologists from UC Berkeley; for Tomo, we expanded that to include mindfulness teachers to combine Eastern and Western practices.

This approach looked like texting a therapist about text therapy services like BetterHelp. I had already been to personal therapy, so the experience of sharing more about myself was not new. However, I’ve never been a fan of text message therapy; I prefer stream-of-consciousness conversation rather than writing down my fears. But for practical training, I kept texting Tomo. I started creating a profile based on my answers. My profile states that I like to focus on work, am financially anxious, and need help with stress; In other words, a journalist exists in the late stage of capitalism. Tomo summarized our conversation, but incorrectly assumed that I had a “determination to pursue pottery making” when I was curious about it as a potential stress reliever.

Screenshot of tomo therapy session.
Screenshot: Lucca Inc

After the initial conversation, users can explore other activities or “areas” on the island. There seemed to be no virtual pottery I could follow; Instead, the programs Tomo offers range from mastering the art of work-life balance, building motivation, and improving sleep, which come in the form of modules that users can complete anywhere from two weeks to a month. Eventually, people can unlock 3D objects around the island that “facilitate a deeper exploration of their inner sanctuary,” the developers said.

Tomo, the avatar guide, is supposed to be powered by generative AI to have better conversations with users. But honestly, talking to Tomo wasn’t much different than talking to a regular chatbot. I couldn’t get him to engage in a little art therapy with me (he wouldn’t draw) or retail therapy (he couldn’t help me with the shopping or travel tasks I tried to assign him) — which meant that instead of feeling like a fully formed digital being from which I could get away with My problems, it really felt like someone put background music on ChatGPT.

Although I found the guided meditations helpful, they also felt like other guided meditation apps I’ve tried before. Eventually, I found myself losing interest, because by the time I remembered to open Tomo, I already had assignments from my therapist to work on.

The use of AI for mental health treatment remains controversial, especially since privacy protections still fall short of many technology-based mental health solutions. It’s tough work, and Replika, the company behind Tomo’s digital avatar, has already run into trouble. Italy banned Replika last year for failing to meet security standards on the Replika chat app. But Replika’s CEO says he’s taking extra precautions with Tomo, though the company didn’t give me its full privacy policy.

“We do not share any information with any third party and rely on a subscription business model. What users say to Tomo remains private between them and their coach,” Koeda said.

Tomo is only available on iPhone. An Android version will be released later this year. Replika also plans to launch an app on Apple’s Vision Pro, paving the way for more immersive tomo-guided meditation.

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