13 percent of AI chat bot users in the US just want to talk

Most people continue to use AI programs such as ChatGPT, Bing, and Google Bard for mundane tasks like internet searches and text editing. But of the roughly 103 million US adults turning to generative chatbots in recent months, an estimated 13 percent occasionally did it to simply “have a conversation with someone.” 

New national surveys from Consumer Reports explore how and why people are interacting with the increasingly influential technology.

[Related: Humans actually wrote that fake George Carlin ‘AI’ routine.]

According to the August 2023 survey results released on January 30, a vast majority of Americans (69 percent) either did not regularly utilize AI chat programs in any memorable way, or did not use them at all within the previous three months. Those that did, however, overwhelmingly opted to explore OpenAI’s ChatGPT—somewhat unsurprising, given the company’s continued industry dominance. With 19 percent of respondents, ChatGPT usage was more than triple that of Bing AI, as well as nearly five times more popular than Google Bard.

Most AI users asked their programs to conduct commonplace tasks, such as answering questions in lieu of a traditional search engine, writing content, summarizing longer texts, and offering ideas for work or school assignments. Despite generative AI’s relative purported strength at creating and editing computer code, just 10 percent of those surveyed recounted using the technology to do so—three percent less than the number of participants who used it to strike up a conversation.

The desire for idle conversation with someone else is an extremely human, natural feeling. Despite chatbots likely presenting a quick fix for some of those surveyed by Consumer Reports, however, there are already signs that it’s not necessarily the healthiest of habits.

As AI becomes more ubiquitous and naturalistic, many industry critics have voiced concerns about a potentially increasing number of people turning to technology instead of human relationships. Numerous reports in recent months highlight a growing market of AI bots explicitly marketed to an almost exclusively male audience as “virtual girlfriends.” Meanwhile, countless examples showcase men repeatedly engaging in behavior with their digital partners that would be considered abusive in the real world.

Of course, it’s important to note simply putting the “chat” in “chatbot” to the test isn’t in any way concerning on its own. This is a shiny, new technology, after all—one that is being aggressively pushed within a largely unregulated industry. Extrapolating Consumer Reports’ survey results, it’s unlikely that a large portion of the estimated 10.2 million Americans who recently had a “conversation” with a chatbot are planning on putting a (digital) ring on it. Still, that’s quite a lot of people looking to gab—roughly about as many as those visited with an AI chatbot for “no particular task, I just wanted to see what it was like.”