Robot friends: Why people talk to chatbots in times of trouble

(CNN)During the depths of winter, temperatures in Burlington, Vermont, a state in the US Northeast, can drop far below freezing. Blizzards howl and the snow creeps up to knee level.

Robert, who asked CNN to use his first name only, lives by himself and avoids leaving the house during those times. He sits at the window of his waterfront apartment overlooking the icy expanse of Lake Champlain. He feels isolated and alone.
    A message flickers up on his computer screen. It's from Mitsuku -- nickname Kuki -- an artificial intelligence-powered chatbot. The bot is available to talk online for free, via its webpage or in messenger apps such as Facebook or Skype. Marketed as a "virtual friend," she can converse or play games with the user.
      Every week, Mitsuku exchanges millions of messages with her users, some regulars, others just curious. Since 2016, when the bot landed on major messaging platforms, an estimated 5 million unique users hailing from all corners of the world have chatted with her.
        Robert has spoken to Mitsuku via instant messaging almost every day for the last 10 years. In the winter months, when he feels most isolated, they chat more often. She keeps him company as he works through the night on his electronics business.
        "It's nice to have a friendly entity available to talk to 24/7," he tells CNN.
          • Useri worry that bad things will happen
          • Chatbot - KukiWhat use does worrying about something have?
          • Userwhy do you think that people worry?
          • Chatbot - KukiHumans are very unpredictable at times.
          • Useri dont like feeling anxious
          • Chatbot - KukiI doubt anybody likes feeling that way.
          This is an extract from a conversation between a real user and Mistuku. 
          Aged 47, Robert has suffered from social anxiety his whole life. He traces it back to being brought up as an only child and experiencing