One of the ironies of a more highly connected world is how isolated and lonely some people feel. There are online services whereby you can rent a “friend” for some task or occasion. (Say you have an extra ticket to the game, but no one to go with.) But there is no continuity there.
There are also sites that provide virtual girlfriends. One variety a downloadable AI software who provides some level of girlfriend-like interaction. The other variety relies on real women, but seems to be largely about establishing a paper trail to prove that you actually have a girlfriend.
Why not virtual online friends for the truly lonely? The page for the AI girlfriend linked above claims to be providing that, but I don’t think anyone would much go for it absent the implied sexual component. Just somebody to talk to and spend some time with. Today they would be pretty crude, but they will only get better. They could make life easier and more enjoyable for a lot of lonely people.
And developing programs just to be friends with people seems like a good step to take towards friendly AI, doesn’t it?