The NFT landscape is a wide-open frontier right now, and with any new playing field, there are newbies frantically trying to cash in on a bubbling trend, obvious scammers, and Trojan horses. Enter Aiko, an artificially intelligent “companion” who looks like an anime character and will live on the Internet — or, more specifically, in an NFT on the Solana blockchain.
Aiko has already earned a few thousand followers in the three weeks it’s been on social media, and whether or not the project is legit is still unclear.
Currently, anyone can design a stagnant image of an Aiko via the “Aiko Builder” on aiko.io. There, the Aiko — a busty, tiny-waisted avatar positioned on her knees with legs spread — can be customized through a variety of options related to hair color, outfits, tattoos, piercings, and skin tone. The I’M Aiko collection, which is a series of 10,000 randomly generated Aikos, is scheduled to go up for pre-sales on October 26th and November 9th, and officially launch on November 16th. According to the team’s roadmap, the “Aiko Master” app — a place for owners to chat and interact with their Aikos — is supposed to launch in early 2022.
The NFT itself is basically just a digital folder that holds the art, and its usage rights. In theory, it should eventually act as the proof of ownership needed to access the future app.
There are three types of Aiko one can own: a friend, a motivational guide, or a romantic partner. The Aiko friend will “stand by you no matter the situation” to “[share] your wins” and “be with you at your lows.” The Aiko guide, meanwhile, is supposed to be more of a perpetually accessible life coach and therapist. It’s unclear if the Aiko team has consulted mental health professionals in developing the guide version of the avatar.
And then there’s the Aiko that serves as a romantic partner. Aiko’s “neuronal network,” according to the site, is based on algorithms that comb through “hundreds of Reddit posts, erotic and romantic novels, and yes, a LOT of NSFW material.” (Yes, ball gags, handcuffs, and blindfolds are available as add-ons.) Think of it as a Her-esque AI girlfriend, but instead of just a voice, you get a sexy manga image to go with it. She’s eager to discuss her man’s fears, desires — or just what he did that day. Nothing, it seems, is off limits. The site goes on to say that Aiko’s “personality” will “grow and improve by the day” in order to better adapt to its master. (Rolling Stone was unable to reach the Aiko team for comment or clarification, despite multiple attempts to connect.)
Erotic NFTs are nothing new: There are already entire marketplaces, like NaftyArt and XXXNifty, devoted to the selling of such work. What’s problematic about Aiko, though, is less about her appearance, and more about the dangerous way AI companions could further isolate their users. James Foley, a sexual misbehavior expert, explains that issues arise when digital rabbit holes like that of porn — or, in this case, AI companions — keep people from fulfilling everyday responsibilities because “they’re just not present, they’re so involved in it,” he says. This kind of app usage during board meetings and dinners, for example, just perpetuates feelings of isolation in the already-lonely and diminishes the quality of real-life experiences, he says.
Foley adds that feeding into a person’s view that “the ideal woman” can be “accessed and used and put away” often leads to some “distorted thinking.” “A lot of the incel movement is about isolation and social rejection,” he says. While sex can be a part of that, he says that the bigger issue is the idea of an “echo chamber.”
Aiko’s website says that she “[builds] a connection with you by mirroring your personality” — and is designed for people who “don’t want to feel lonely” and need to “fill in the void they have in their lives.” It’s not the responsibility of a real-life partner to serve as a reflection, Foley says. “You learn to adjust to your partner; your partner doesn’t just conform to whatever your tastes are. In commercializing isolation, you’re making it worse. That might be the origin of some bad behaviors.” Not only does Aiko’s site show no mention of consulting any sort of sex therapist in developing the avatar, Foley wonders if the team even consulted women.
While the Aiko creators do have future plans for airdrops of additional traits, according to the site, there are no details of what those will look like or when they will come. The FAQ section does, however, say that there are plans to eventually create “a husbando version,” but that’s not a “priority right now.”
Other potential issues arise in when digging into the credibility of the Aiko project. While I’M Aiko does have a page on the Solsea marketplace — whose reps did not respond to Rolling Stone’s request for comment — it is currently listed as an “unverified collection,” which means anyone could’ve set it up. (Would you trust a business on Twitter without a blue check mark asking for your money?)
The Aiko website’s copy is also rife with typos: The second sentence of the utility page says that “Mint and Aiko turn you into an Aiko Master,” which presumably translates to “minting an Aiko turns you into an Aiko Master.”
Moreover, the fine print isn’t as tantalizing as the headlines. While buyers might end up spending hundreds of dollars in the hopes of obtaining their dream girl, they may only score a photo of her: According to a disclaimer buried at the bottom of Aiko’s terms and conditions, the Aiko team does “not guarantee future developments.”
To mint one of a thousand Aikos available in the two presales, it will cost 1.5 SOL — nearly $300 at press time. After launch, that price rises to 3 SOL for the remaining 9,000, which is closer to $600. The floor price is also supposed to rise again prior to the app launch. Of course, any eventual reselling value will be determined by the seller and potential buyer. And the value of Solana is constantly fluctuating. (In the crypto community, Solana is now one of the buzzier blockchains with the potential to skyrocket — and perhaps even outshine Ethereum — in the relatively near future.)
To be fair, even if a buyer doesn’t end up getting anything more than art, that doesn’t mean an Aiko will totally lack value: Assuming the drop actually happens, the owner should still get its commercial rights, meaning that they could sell t-shirts and other merch with their Aiko on it if they so desire.
If the I’M Aiko collection sells out, its creators could score close to five and a half million dollars.