In 2015, Eugenia Kuyda’s best friend, Roman Mazurenko, was hit by a car and died. In the months after, Kuyda’s grief took a quintessentially modern form: obsessively reading the digital record her loved one left behind.
As CEO of the San Francisco chatbot startup Luka, Kudya had access to resources few others had, including a team of engineers who specialized in training AI to replicate specific voices. In early 2016, she sent her team hundreds of Mazurenko’s text messages, and asked them to use the messages to train a chatbot called Roman. Her experience with Roman — and the response from beta users — drove her to launch a customizable chatbot called Replika in 2018 after two years in beta, aiming to help solve what Kudya sees as an ongoing “pandemic of loneliness.”