Deal Dive: AI relationship coach Amorai offers more questions than answers

Building and maintaining relationships is hard, and COVID-19 definitely didn’t help. Multiple studies have shown that adults have gotten even more lonely since the start of the pandemic.

Founders are trying to find tech solutions. There are many startups looking to combat loneliness — some formed years before the pandemic — including senior-focused ElliQ and Replika, which creates an AI companion, and Inflection AI’s Pi, an emotional support bot. But a newer entrant really caught my eye this week: Amorai.

The startup has built an AI relationship coach to help people grow and foster real-life connections by offering advice and answers to relationship questions. The company was founded by former Tinder CEO Renate Nyborg and was incubated in Andrew Ng’s AI Fund. The company just raised an undisclosed amount of pre-seed funding that took only 24 hours to raise, Nyborg told Vox’s Recode Media podcast back in April.

While combating loneliness is a great mission — and some groups of people may be more open to chat with a bot than a human — this feels like it has the potential to go so wrong so fast. But what do I know? So I pinged an expert.

Turns out I’m not the only one a little wary of this concept. Maarten Sap, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University and researcher for the nonprofit Allen Institute of AI, shared my concern. Sap’s research focuses on building social common sense and social intelligence into AI. He’s also done research in the development of deep language learning models that help understand human cognition. Essentially, he knows a thing or two about how AI interacts with humans.