Hello, and welcome to 500 Words.


Tamagotchi are virtual pets that hit peak popularity in the late 1990s. You picked up a handheld device to play with, feed, and meet your Tamagotchi’s needs. This widespread human-machine love relationship was the first of its kind. And the love endures: As of June 2023, more than 91 million Tamagotchi have been sold worldwide.

The next generation of virtual friends are going to be smarter than Tamagotchi. They will be life-sized sexbots, friendbots for platonic relationships, and nursebots to keep older adults company. There will be teacherbots to tutor young children.

A wave of AI dolls will soon be upon us, says consultant and futurist Matt Webb. He notes that an AI doll will be software wrapped in a personality. For example, you will pick out a character type to teach you a new language.

So, yes: What if your Excel software had a personality? A math buddy to help you with spreadsheets. Some of you may remember Clippy, an obnoxious little animated paper clip that popped up in Microsoft Word to suggest how you should format your document. Now consider if all of Microsoft Word were wrapped in a personality. Word will be software as writing buddy that you talk to, brainstorm with, and which gives you positive feedback for making your word count.

If you want to learn the guitar and compose pop songs, your life-sized John-Mayer-bot will hang out and be your coach. Actually, your Mayerbot might not need a corporal form, but wouldn’t that be nice? It would look you in the eye and tell you your latest lyrics are good, and then tell you how to make them better. It might invite its buddy Princebot over to jam.

Software in a personality wrapper — you think you’d never put that on your credit card? Consider that when you hear a scary story, your pulse quickens as though you are really being chased by the monster. When your Mayerbot praises you for writing a new song, you’ll feel good. If you’re willing to make the leap, there will be no difference at all between an AI doll being nice to you and the real John Mayer stopping by for a chat.

I know you’re shaking your head, but look at social media. We’ve been conditioned to have a dopamine burst every time we open X, Bluesky, Threads, Instagram, or some other app. We humans are easily manipulated by reward systems.

If you’re feeling dizzy right now, I recommend putting the phone down and going to an open mic night where you can hear real people playing the guitar and singing in a café. Be sure to pay the cover charge to help keep those places open.


Praise makes us happy and we’ll take it however we can get it. Palmsy is a new social app where you can post your witty remarks and best pictures and get likes. One thing, though: It’s not real. The posts aren’t posted anywhere–they never leave your device. The software reads your contact list and assigns the names of your real friends to pretend likes. The engagement may be artificial, but the dopamine hits are real. The developer of the free app says, “It can be fun to see likes coming in from folks you haven’t thought about in years. It can also be useful in maybe deleting some contacts you might not need anymore.”

I guess.

Mostly, I spend too much time on real social media, so devoting more time to fake social media might mean that my connection to reality has become fluid.


A Brief History of Tamagotchi | Innovation - Smithsonian Magazine

The Tamagotchi Was Tiny, but Its Impact Was Huge | WIRED

What’s a Tamagotchi and Why Was It So Popular?

Wired, Welcome to the Valley of the Creepy AI Dolls

Clippy Didn’t Just Annoy You — He Changed the World

The Life and Death of Microsoft Clippy

Meet Palmsy, the fake social network where your posts stay on your device forever


Reading 500 Words can cause rapid eye movement, Scroller’s Finger, outbursts of skepticism, and a fluid relationship with known facts. Use only as directed.