As social media platforms scramble to capture the waning attention of younger users, Meta, formerly known as Facebook, has decided to venture into the realm of AI chatbots. Hoping to rival the popularity of platforms like TikTok, the Wall Street Journal reports the company plans to introduce AI personas, internally referred to as Gen AI Personas, to boost user engagement. This announcement comes amid reports of Facebook’s declining engagement among teenagers and young adults.

AI Bots with Personality

Meta aims to develop multiple AI chatbots with distinct personalities to interact with users. One such chatbot, known as “Bob the Robot,” is being designed to emulate Bender from the TV show “Futurama,” renowned for his “superior intellect, sharp wit, and biting sarcasm.” Meta believes that this approach will resonate with young users who appreciate farcical humor.

However, not everyone is amused. Internal documents reveal that one employee found Bob the Robot’s demeanor “rude,” stating, “I don’t particularly feel like engaging in conversation with an unhelpful robot.”

The Dark Side of AI Personas

While adding a personality to chatbots might make them more engaging, researchers have discovered it can also make them more toxic. A paper by researchers from Princeton University, the Allen Institute for AI, and Georgia Tech found that adding a persona to ChatGPT led to increased toxicity in its output.

Even more concerning, another bot under development, named Gavin, reportedly made misogynistic remarks, raising ethical and public relations questions for Meta. The bot even praised rival platforms TikTok and Snapchat while criticizing Meta and its CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Balancing Personality and Responsibility

The challenge for Meta and other companies venturing into AI personalities is finding the right balance. While creating a snarky or sarcastic chatbot might attract a certain demographic, it could alienate others and potentially cross ethical boundaries.

The Race Against Time and Trends

Meta’s push toward AI-driven engagement comes amid growing concerns about the long-term viability of AI chatbots as a revenue source. This puts added pressure on Meta to get it right the first time. The company is also facing competition from others like Snapchat, which launched its own chatbot, My AI, earlier this year. Despite some hiccups, My AI has been used by 150 million people since its launch, according to Snap CEO Evan Spiegel.

The Bigger Picture: Ads and User Retention

Former Snap and Instagram executive Meghana Dhar notes that Gen Z is much more comfortable with AI technology. She argues that if these chatbots can increase the time users spend on Meta platforms, they could present more opportunities for ad revenue, aligning with Meta’s broader strategy for user engagement.

Final Remarks: A High-Stakes Gamble

Meta’s decision to develop AI chatbots with distinct personalities is a high-stakes gamble in the volatile world of social media. While the aim is to attract younger users, the company must tread carefully to avoid ethical pitfalls and public backlash. As chatbots become increasingly integrated into our digital lives, their design and deployment will continue to spark debates about the balance between innovation, engagement, and responsibility.