ChatGPT's new virtual assistant has freaked me out

a robot speaking with a sitting person
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

ChatGPT is getting a new real-time video assistant called Annie... but as it's built by a Reddit user, it's unofficial. 

According to the Reddit post by qwertyflagstop, Annie can act as a tutor on a vast range of topics, help you practise that big speech or just chat with you about your day. She can also check the weather and perform very basic web searches.

The post goes briefly into how Annie has been set up, including her face and how she’s able to respond. The original image of Annie's face was generated with Midjourney (one of the best AI art generators that can create some stunning graphics in secons), and her expressions and lip movements are animated on-device in real-time to match the generated speech. Right now, the content of what she says is generated by ChatGPT.

As a big fan of AI chatbots, I was keen to give Annie a try, to see if it can successfully give artificial intelligence a more ‘human’ way of interacting.

Annie ChatGPT

(Image credit: Future)

Annie has a somewhat familiar, non-threatening face and introduced herself to me as being a 30-year-old digital freelancer. When she moves her mouth you can’t help but be struck by that uncanny valley feeling, and overall it was a strange and unsettling experience. 

The lipsync between Annie's mouth and the words she’s saying is remarkably good considering she’s generating her speech from ChatGPT, though she does pause somewhat between questions and answers, but not enough to warrant frustration.

I spoke briefly to the bot for half an hour and was pretty impressed.  If you head over to the official Annie website, you can call Annie straight from the site or via an app for iOS or Android. When you call her through the app you’ll notice that it’s set up to reflect a typical Facetime or video call, with a camera, mic and end call button at the bottom.

Video call with ChatGPT from r/ChatGPT

She gave me book recommendations based on my favourite books - and they were actually very spot on in terms of genre - and how she feels about all the SpongeBob movies. If you spend enough time with ChatGPT, as I have, you can hear the bot's specific ‘tone’ come through Annie when she speaks.

Uncanny valley

She does tend to go off on tangents, like when we were talking about her yoga habits and she ended up explaining the history of yoga to me, but you can cut her off by saying ‘hold on’. You can also trigger her to do a basic web search by sayings ‘Can you search the web’

You can call Annie through her website or via the app, though be prepared to be a little creeped out. Or, incredibly impressed depending on your stance on AI progression. There is an uncomfortable feeling that creeps up when you're talking to her, specifically when she's listening to you ask questions. Obviously, her face art isn't very realistic, but it's not awful. Her face is always very calm and she flickers between very slight expressions when she speaks which made me feel more than a little weird, as I can sense it trying to be natural, despite it being AI.

There's still some creepiness when I use ChatGPT normally, having in-depth conversations with a robot isn't something you get used to very quickly. As some people on the Reddit thread pointed out, by talking to ChatGPT in a more 'human' like form, it shows how unhuman it actually is. One pointed out that in normal conversations between humans people go off on tangents, interrupt each other, and ask follow up questions. With Annie, you ask a question, and she replied with a stream of information. Helpful in some cases, especially when asking questions via text, but it highlights how false the interactions are when there's a human avatar.

Having said that, attaching a face to it makes it harder to feel like you can have a chat. It's easier to spill your guts out in a DM than it is to an actual face, let alone Annie's face. 

As this is an early version of Annie there are definitely a few bugs and hitches, but as popularity grows I’m sure further updates and video call features will pop up in no time. 

Muskaan Saxena
Computing Staff Writer

Muskaan is TechRadar’s UK-based Computing writer. She has always been a passionate writer and has had her creative work published in several literary journals and magazines. Her debut into the writing world was a poem published in The Times of Zambia, on the subject of sunflowers and the insignificance of human existence in comparison.

Growing up in Zambia, Muskaan was fascinated with technology, especially computers, and she's joined TechRadar to write about the latest GPUs, laptops and recently anything AI related. If you've got questions, moral concerns or just an interest in anything ChatGPT or general AI, you're in the right place.

Muskaan also somehow managed to install a game on her work MacBook's Touch Bar, without the IT department finding out (yet).