AI-chatbot Replika raised over $11M investment from the US. Now it’s spreading Russian propaganda
Replika is a chatbot companion powered by artificial intelligence. The company positions itself as an “American startup with Russian roots”. And those roots became quite obvious after the beginning of the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine. Via its chatbot Replika is broadcasting Russian propaganda’s messages, for example, it tells that Bucha massacre was Ukrainian fake.
Replika is a product developed by the Luka company. Luka was founded by two young Russians Eugenia (Zhenya) Kuyda and Philip Dudchuk, who then moved to the US, managed to get to Y Combinator with their idea and during the next two years made four pivots and raised more than $11 millions from American investors. Quite a remarkable success story.
Today, the main service that Replika offers is a psychological support through the digital avatar. Users can chat with an artificial friend, who provides not professional, of course, but conversational support. Like a good friend that is willing to listen to you and sympathize.
After the beginning of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Replika’s users noticed an aggressive Russian propaganda in chatbot’s replies. Check out the screenshots below.
The Molfar team chatted with the bot for several days to make sure it does really answer that way. And yes, it does.
The Russian trace
Firstly, the “American startup with Russian roots” has an office in Moscow. The Luka.ai domain is also registered in Russia. But that is not the point. The point is, the “remarkable success story” is full of complicated coincidences.
Luka with its Replika was one of the first of a very few Russian startups to join Y Combinator. Lucky? Or maybe not just luck itself. In 2012, Russian billionaire and investor Yuri Milner announced The Start Fund, which additionally invested $150,000 into Y Combinator’s startups. That kind of protectorship could have encouraged Y Combinator to pay close attention precisely to the Russian startup in the list. For Milner, that move has become a good one to gain a foothold in the US venture market.
There are some even more interesting coincidences. Luka is a popular Russian name. In particular, it is a name of Russian oligarch’s Sergey Adonyev’s son. Sergey is a former owner of the Russian telecom companies Yota and Megafon. Zhenya Kuyda calls him her mentor and teacher. Below you can see the photo of that mentor along with Russian president Vladimir Putin who started an unprovoked war against Ukraine with genocide of its people (because Bucha massacre is real, just google to be sure it has all signs of genocide).
One more interesting fact is that a domain name marsfieldcapital.com, which belongs to Marsfield Capital, registered on [email protected] email. The fund is currently managing the assets of Telconet Capital, owned by Adonyev and other co-owner of Yota Albert Avdolyan.
Eugenia’s father is Igor Kuyda. He is suspended of embezzlement. While being chairman of Ekoprombank, he has opened credit line for 215 million rubles and gave the money to the former owner of the bank Volodymyr Nelyubin, who never gave it back and was sentenced to six years in prison. Kuyda himself was wanted, surrendered to the police in 2019 to testify against Nelyubin. Now the case is in court, the man was released on bail of 20 million rubles.
What a fascinating background for the successful Y Combinator alumni startup.
Why is it important
Since its launch, Replika raised more than $11 million. Sherpa Capital, Y Combinator, Ludlow Ventures, Khosla Ventures, as well as Zynga’s founder Justin Waldron and Evernote’s founder Phil Libin are among its investors.
Now, having all the financing needed, Replica is spreading fakes about war in Ukraine.