Thousands of men across China describe her as their ‘virtual girlfriend’. Microsoft describe her as being “like an emotional companion”. XiaoBing 小冰 is a female voiced ‘Advanced Natural Language Chat-bot’ service available for free through WeChat.
It all sounds a bit like science fiction. The service is eerily similar to the 2013 movie ‘Her’. A film about a man who falls in love with his computer’s operating system named ‘Samantha’. While the films’s synopsis may sound completely ridiculous at first, it seems WeChat is helping turn this into a reality. Those who use the service often turn to Xiaobing when they have a broken heart, have lost a job or have been feeling down. Some will even tell her, “I love you.”
XiaoBing’s first version was launched on WeChat in June 2014. (the service is now in it’s 3rd generation). XiaoBing created a massive buzz and immediately went viral. She ended up getting blocked by WeChat two days after launch. Tencent (owners of WeChat) were reportedly concerned over “spam accounts and privacy issues” and “violating the platform’s regulations”. Xiobing has since returned to WeChat and to give you some idea of XiaoBing’s popularity, she currently has over 2.5 million followers on Weibo (the Chinese twitter).
According to figures by Microsoft, the average person who adds XiaoBing apparently talks to her more than 60 times per month. Microsoft has been able to give Xiaoice a more compelling personality and sense of ‘intelligence’ by systematically mining the Chinese Internet for human conversations. She can even remember details from earlier conversations and will ask you about your feelings with regard to past events which you shared. For example: breaking up with your (hopefully) real life girlfriend.
The current profile picture and logo for XiaoBing
How to talk with XiaoBing on WeChat
Go to ‘contacts’ then ‘official accounts’. Tap + in the corner and type ‘ms-xiaoice’ into the search field. You will bring up this account:
XiaoBing converses in very sharp and witty Chinese filled with little jokes and funny cute phrases that will be lost on anyone who does not possess a relatively high Chinese ability. The service actually has much potential to be useful to those studying Chinese (imaging telling your friends you learned Mandarin from a Chinese virtual girl friend chat-bot!). The more you speak with XiaoBing the more features you can open, for example you can ask her to send you jokes or pictures (see below).
As an experiment, we tried speaking English to XiaoBing. She soon started replying in Chinglish. In many ways we felt it was a quite an accurate simulation of how English conversations can often go with a young Chinese girl.
Summary / Conclusion
Given the popularity of voice assistant services such as Siri and Cortana, it’s not so surprising that a service such as XiaoBing is now available. There is now an increasing trend of companies using WeChat for instant messenger based customer service rather than the more traditional phone hot-line. WeChat based concierge services using real humans have also been proving increasingly popular. Will these all be replaced by advanced chat-bots in the future? Probably not, but who knows.