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Romancing the phone
The virtual girlfriend is reminiscent of the Tamagotchi "pet" launched in Japan.
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A Hong Kong firm will soon offer a virtual girlfriend via mobile phones
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Artificial Life Incorporated
Hong Kong

HONG KONG, China (CNN) -- For men seeking true romance there is now a new mating game with an unusual twist -- it is virtual and mobile.

A fantasy world in which lovesick men can wine and dine a virtual girlfriend on their 3G phones is about to be rolled out in Asia and Europe.

You will soon be able to download an artificial girlfriend, then track her movements via images on a 3G mobile handset. All the likely suitor needs to do is push the right buttons -- literally.

Aimed at males between the ages of 15 and 35, the virtual girlfriend uses up a lot of bandwidth -- shopping, dining, going to bars and the gym.

Men who wish to take the relationship further have to shower the virtual girlfriend with gifts, paying with real money.

If an anniversary is forgotten, the player quickly discovers that their new "partner" is giving them the cold shoulder.

Artificial Life, the Nasdaq-listed and Hong Kong-based software company, which created the new virtual girlfriend, has designed her with artificial intelligence. It expects thousands of men to sign up to the service in the coming months.

"You can send her messages, ask what she is doing, even flirt with her," Eberhard Schoneburg, CEO of Artificial Life told CNN.

"She will have certain secrets and behaviors that you will not realize in the beginning," says Schoneburg. "She will talk about sex -- but you will not get any sex there."

Opportunities for advertising are plentiful in this new interactive experience. The new "partner" may express a liking for a certain fashion brand or suggest a date in a particular coffee house.

"Once you get into a virtual relationship, there is a danger of not being able to relate to real people," said one man on the streets of Hong Kong when asked by CNN about the concept.

Some women, meanwhile, are celebrating the end of conventional romance.

"It is safer (for men) to have (a virtual) girlfriend (rather) than a real girlfriend because you cannot trust men," said one woman.

These interactive, virtual agents are also known as bots. Technology and marketing firms are now using them to engage and interact with customers. They encompass functions such as purchasing, customer complaints or delivering product information.

However, this latest development has some people worried about the psychological implications.

"It would be dangerous if people got excited by these electronic experiences and tried to transplant them into real life," Dominic Lee, professor of psychiatry at Chinese University, told the South China Morning Post newspaper.

"In vulnerable personalities who cannot develop a relationship with a woman, that could develop into something voyeuristic, or even dangerous."

-- CNN's Andrew Brown contributed to this report

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