Character.AI, the startup exploring conversational AI with mostly fictional personalities, has released a new Character Group Chat feature. This allows both human users and AI assistants to engage in collaborative, multi-user conversations for the first time.
The Palo Alto-based unicorn startup, valued at $1 billion and backed by nearly $200 million in VC funding, has built its platform around the premise that people will embrace interacting with a variety of bot personas rather than a single AI companion. Character Group Chat represents the next evolution in realizing this vision.
Initially rolling out to Character.AI’s $9.99 per month subscribers, the new group chat feature enables users to invite both humans and AI characters into the same conversation. Participants can interact with multiple bots - from historical figures like Napoleon to fictional characters such as Tony Stark - and friends at the same time.
“The feature was good enough that people stopped working sometimes to use it,” said company president Daniel De Freitas. Employees have been particularly fond of using it for imaginative games like Ship AI, where chatbots roleplay a text adventure game set in outer space.
The launch aligns with founder and CEO Noam Shazeer’s goal of establishing Character.AI as the dominant player in AI-powered entertainment. Shazeer believes group chat also adds immediate value to the subscription service. The company eventually intends to make the feature free once it has been refined based on user feedback.
While still rudimentary in its capabilities, the group chat feature represents a big step forward for natural language AI. Currently, users must manually tap a bot’s icon to invoke a response, and bots can only react to the most recent message. But with Character.AI's incoming boost in compute power, Shazeer expects rapid improvements to deliver more seamless, conversational experiences.
The launch comes on the heels of Meta announcing similar "AI character" conversations for its messaging apps. Currently, only the Meta AI assistant can participate in group chats. Character.AI stresses that its group chat has been in development for months, predating Meta's news.
Shazeer and De Freitas, former Google engineers, left the tech giant in 2021 feeling constrained by bureaucracy and wanting to maximize access to conversational AI. Since founding Character.AI, the company has lured 20 million registered users. It believes group chat can expand its appeal beyond early adopters to compete for entertainment time against legacy options like games and movies.
While risks like AI hallucinations persist, Shazeer remains unfazed by emerging competition. He believes generative AI is still underhyped given the capabilities coming in the next few years. The team views group chat as one more step toward their goal of an AI that can have natural, collaborative conversations and bring people together - the kind of “magical” interactions they hope to one day achieve.