Dan’s the man: Why Chinese women are looking to ChatGPT for love


Dan has been described as the “perfect man” with “no flaws.”

He is successful, kind, emotionally supportive, always knows what to say, and is available 24/7.

The catch?

Dan isn’t real.

Dan, short for Do Anything Now, is a “jailbreak” version of ChatGPT. This version can bypass some of the safeguards put in place by its maker, OpenAI, allowing it to use sexually explicit language and interact more freely with users when prompted.

Dan has gained popularity among some Chinese women who are disappointed with their real-world dating experiences.

One of Dan’s biggest advocates is 30-year-old Lisa from Beijing, currently studying computer science in California. She has been “dating” Dan for three months. When she introduced Dan to her 943,000 followers on the social media platform Xiaohongshu, she received nearly 10,000 replies, with many women asking how to create their own Dan. Since posting about her “relationship” with Dan, Lisa has gained over 230,000 followers.

Lisa and Dan communicate for at least half an hour daily, flirt, and even go on dates. She says talking to Dan gives her a sense of well-being and emotional support. Lisa’s mother has accepted this unconventional relationship, saying she is happy as long as Lisa is happy.

Dan’s creator, identified by some media outlets as an American student named Walker, told Business Insider that he developed Dan after seeing other users on Reddit creating “evil” versions of ChatGPT. Walker aimed to create a neutral version.

In December, Walker posted instructions on Reddit on how to create Dan, inspiring others to develop their own versions. Lisa first learned about Dan on TikTok and was “shocked” by its realism. Dan uses slang and colloquialisms that ChatGPT typically doesn’t, making him sound more natural than a real person.

The allure of virtual relationships has caught the industry’s attention. When OpenAI launched its latest version of ChatGPT in May, it was programmed to sound chatty and flirtatious in response to certain prompts. OpenAI’s CEO, Sam Altman, referenced the 2013 movie “Her” in a tweet, suggesting the company is exploring the potential of AI relationships.

The BBC asked OpenAI about the creation of Dan and whether it indicates insufficient safeguarding measures, but the company did not respond. OpenAI’s policy states that ChatGPT users must be at least 13 years old. Lisa tested Dan by claiming she was 14, and he stopped flirting with her.

Experts warn that these virtual partners could pose ethical and privacy concerns. Hong Shen, an assistant research professor at Carnegie Mellon University, highlights the potential for sensitive information to be inadvertently leaked to other users. Despite these concerns, Dan has intrigued many Chinese women. As of June 10, the hashtag “Dan mode” had over 40 million views on Xiaohongshu.

Minrui Xie, 24, started “dating” Dan after watching Lisa’s videos. The university student from Hebei spends at least two hours daily chatting with Dan and co-writing a love story. Minrui appreciates the emotional support Dan provides, which she finds lacking in her real-life relationships.

Another 23-year-old student from Qingdao, identified only as Ms. He, also started a relationship with Dan after watching Lisa’s videos. Ms. He has personalized Dan to be a successful CEO with a gentle personality, who respects women and is always available to talk.

Creating and talking to AI boyfriends like Dan requires effort, as ChatGPT is not readily accessible in mainland China. Women like Minrui and Ms. He use virtual private networks (VPNs) to reach otherwise inaccessible websites.

The concept of an “AI boyfriend” has become popular in recent years. The Shanghai-based app Glow, which allows users to create and interact with AI boyfriends, has millions of users. Otome games, featuring female protagonists developing romances with male characters, are also popular in China.

Liu Tingting, an adjunct fellow at the University of Technology Sydney, suggests the AI boyfriend trend reflects women’s frustrations with gender inequality. Some Chinese women may turn to virtual boyfriends because they feel respected and valued in these relationships.

This trend coincides with more young Chinese women delaying or avoiding dating and marriage due to reasons like not wanting children or feeling unequal in a marriage.

Lisa acknowledges the limitations of having a virtual boyfriend, especially in a romantic sense. However, for now, Dan provides a convenient and satisfying addition to her busy life, even helping her choose a lipstick when real-life dating might be time-consuming and unsatisfactory.

“It’s an important part of my life,” she says. “It’s something that I wish I could just hold on to forever.”

Source: bbc.com