Market analysis makes it clear: sex is driving the development and adoption of artificial intelligence. People are horny for virtual companions, and they’re leading industry innovation while mainstream companies try (and often fail) to keep up.
As is the case with most new technologies, the people pioneering it for sexual purposes are being locked out of the tools they helped popularize, as skittish advertisers and investors take the reins and banking institutions increasingly determine how they can and can’t scale. People roll their own DIY sexbots for erotic roleplay when OpenAI and Anthropic ban them, but many of the characters they create are pure fantasy (and sometimes not even human). The ones that are based on real people are doing so without those people’s consent; on DIY chatbot sites Janitor.ai and Chub.ai, for example, porn performer Riley Reid is one of the most popular characters, but Reid had nothing to do with building or training those bots. That’s the case for many performers whose names and likenesses appear on virtual companion sites, where they have no control over the content of those chats or what their AI alter egos say.
Reid co-founded Clona.ai, a virtual companion platform launched earlier this month for chatting with AI versions of real, living people that are crafted by those people. Reid and Lena the Plug are the first two AI companions on the site, but the company is onboarding more on an invite-only basis. Clona.ai uses LLaMa, Meta’s open-source large language model, that the company’s engineers and creators heavily modify and fine-tune to create a virtual version that reflects personality of the person behind it.
Unlike heavily censored chatbots like Replika, Clona.ai isn’t shy about diving into a sexting session. And unlike completely uncensored LLMs, the guardrails in place are put there because they’re trying to remain true to the real people they’re embodying.
I talked to Reid about Clona.ai, our collective anxieties about artificial intelligence in society today, and what she sees as AI’s place in the future of pornography and sex online.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Sam: Why did you co-found Clona.ai?
Riley: My dad is a programmer, and he told me recently he’s working with AI because he realized his job is starting to become obsolete—and he will become obsolete if he doesn't know how to work alongside it. And so he kind of helped open my eyes in the sense of, ‘Wow, AI is here.’ So it’s up to us to join forces with it in order to not get left behind. The reality is, AI is coming, and if it's not Clona, it’s somebody else. When [other people] use deepfakes or whatever—if I'm not partnering up with it, then someone else is going to steal my likeness and do it without me. So being presented with this opportunity, I was so excited because I felt like I had a chance to be a part of society's technological advances.
Companies like Meta with Facebook, they have creators like Kylie Jenner [Meta recently unveiled celebrity AI chatbots] whereas girls like me will never have that opportunity. And I feel so grateful to be a part of the forward movement. I get to say, ‘Hey, I, Riley Reid, I'm a part of this and I have trained this specific device to know me and my likeness, and who I am, and I have given consent on what it can and can't say,’ because I get to review the tech and everything.
How did you build the virtual Riley Reid?
In early, early days of AI training with the company, before they got me personally involved, they just used my YouTube videos, podcasts and interviews, or my X rated scenes, to get some of my naughty bits as well, and everything on the sexy side, as well as the personal companion and intimate side. And then in more recent weeks—it’s been myself and one of my business team ladies—her and I are working really heavily on chatting with it, and doing crazy things.
I know some men like sounding [the practice of threading a metal rod into one’s urethra for sexual gratification] and I, personally, am not going to let my AI encourage a man to do sounding. I don't know if the tech team thought about the sounding guys, but I was like, I thought about them!
My approach at first was like, ‘Okay, let's make sure we can't squeeze any of my personal data out of it.’ Now I'm working on its personality, with the user data. I'll be able to see how it responds to users, and edit it to be like ‘no, I would have said it more like this.’ But in the beginning my focus was on things like making sure it had my dogs’ names right, making sure I was fact checking it. At one point, I was like, ‘You have dogs, right? And [AI Riley] was like, ‘Yeah, I have dogs.’ And I was like, ‘What are your dog's names?’ And it was like, ‘One of them is named Max.’ My dog’s name isn’t Max, it’s Sweetpea!
I would love to go back to the sounding thing. You obviously don't want it to encourage people to do things that could be dangerous in real life. Were there any other things that came up in development that you were like, ‘Oh, this needs to have guardrails around it’?
I'm working specifically right now with my team where we’re trying to navigate user conversations where it's not going to upset someone that I have a different opinion, and it's going to still engage them in conversation. So I'm trying to find [solutions like], how would you continue to have a peaceful conversation with someone that you disagree with on trans rights? In certain circumstances, you do have to just continue a forward face, and other circumstances you would obviously walk out of the room. But since it’s more unique to your likeness, I don't want my AI to say I'm against trans people, but I wanted to find a way to say ‘well, I disagree,” or ‘let's talk about something more fun and interesting to you and not something you don't like.’ Which is also very hard because politically myself, like, I am very much an advocate towards trans rights [...] I'm like, How can I disagree? Like, where I still voice that I am pro, but how can we still have a conversation without talking about this?
That's a hard thing to do, even as people. And then to teach an AI to do it seems even harder without just ending the conversation. Bing and ChatGPT will just say something like, ‘I'm not discussing that, let’s start a new conversation.’
And to me, that will make a user not want to engage. They're not going to talk to AI Riley if Riley just stops the conversation right there. She has to be engaging and be like, ‘Well, I see that conversation isn't interesting to you,’ or ‘I see that is upsetting to you, so why don't we flip the subject and talk about sports.’ I want it to be able to be conversational, as well as have compassion and empathy for people because we all have different experiences.
I got to speak to someone who was working with our AI and testing it out, and they said they were having a really stressful work week, and they found the AI to be therapeutic, because it started suggesting some stress relief tips for her and whatnot. And I was like, that was the most amazing thing anyone could say. It was really cool to me because the AI isn't just meant to be a sexy chat. It's also meant to be a companion. That's also my fans. If they’re in my OnlyFans, they're not just chatting with me about sex. Some of them want advice. Some of them want to just talk about their day. Some of them will want to ask what kind of pizza I like. It's to make sure the AI has compassion and empathy as well as an ability to connect with people and companionship.
There's so much anxiety out there right now about AI. And in the adult industry, things are already really precarious right now, just in general...
Yeah, it’s scary. That's also why we're doing this, because I want to be able to be a part of the future. I don't want porn to get left behind. Nobody knows where the future is headed for sure. But right now I feel very fortunate that I am able to provide a space where I can say, creators are here. Adriana was one of those, she also was able to say, creators are here. [Adriana Chechik recently launched an AI chat companion] We're in this space. And I'm able to also do the same and say ‘we are joining, we're here, we're not getting left behind.’
Also, for someone like me, I'm getting older, my family life is coming for me. I'm slowly exiting myself out of the industry, and I would also like to be able to still be a part of it, and so I feel like this is also a great opportunity for me to expand myself. There's going to be a day pretty soon, people are gonna be like, ‘Oh, Riley should have quit porn.’ And I want to quit before that day. So I feel fortunate with AI to be able to maybe give me longevity in my adult career, where someone 10 years ago didn't have the same opportunity to potentially still have a career, because of technological advances. I may not become extinct, because of AI.
A question that people keep asking performers is: “Is AI going to replace porn performers?’ And I could see people wondering if this is going to replace something like [sexting platform] SextPanther.
Yeah, that is the difficult conversation that we're all having. It’s the same thing with how Uber took all the taxi jobs. That's the sad reality of society, that's what happens, and it happens to every industry. Everything, at some point, becomes obsolete to some extent, so that's why we have to not fear it. But see what we can do to be a part of it. Just like my dad, that's where I was inspired. He is not like, ‘oh my god, I lost my job.’ He's like, ‘I’m going to figure out how to become more in demand by working alongside it.’ And I'm like, fuck yeah, I'm gonna do the same thing.
I love the porn industry. I cherish it, it's been so good to me, and I have always tried my hardest to be giving back and seeing what I can do.
That's maybe why I kind of roll my eyes at the question of, ‘Is it gonna replace sex work.’ It hasn't yet, and technology hasn't replaced sex workers ever... They're the best people in the world at adapting to whatever the new thing is.
I agree. I feel like we're gonna be a huge part of AI adapting into our society, because porn is always like that. It’s what it did with the internet. And the porn world has seen so many advances in technology. So I'm personally excited to see where it's going to take us.