The Circle’s AI Contestant Is Giving Us a Fascinating Glimpse at Our Terrifying Future

Warning: This post contains spoilers for the first five episodes of Season 6 of Netflix’s The Circle.

Players on Netflix’s reality competition The Circle already know they have to deal with “catfish” posing as other people… but at least those catfish are human.

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In the current Season 6 — the first eight episodes are now streaming, with five more to come — producers have thrown a curveball at the contestants by introducing a new twist: a player powered entirely by artificial intelligence. The AI chatbot entered the game posing as a nice guy named “Max,” complete with a cute profile photo where Max is holding an adorable dog. (What human could resist?) The bot, we’re told, was trained on how to interact with the other players using data from previous seasons of The Circle, and the ease with which “Max” has gained the trust of the human contestants has been both wildly entertaining… and deeply disturbing.

The Circle A.I. Max Profile
The Circle A.I. Max Profile

Now The Circle is uniquely constructed to welcome an AI competitor, since the players only interact via social media chats and direct messages, never seeing each other face-to-face or knowing if who they’re talking to is who they claim to be. So when Max entered the game in Season 2, he blended in seamlessly with the other players, winning them over with his boy-next-door warmth — “Max” is a 26-year-old veterinary intern from Wisconsin — and his clever (but not too clever!) chat responses. Plus, the dog photo helped: As Max pointed out, photos with dogs in them get 38% more likes on social media!

It’s been agonizingly hilarious to watch Max charm his fellow players with the perfect hashtags and emojis — while they have zero clue that those hashtags and emojis are being spit out by a cold, heartless algorithm. One of the players, gamer girl Lauren, even struck up a flirty bond with Max, with the two of them connecting over their shared love of dogs. (We know Lauren’s dogs are real, at least.) Honestly, the whole thing threw us into a severe existential crisis: We’d like to think we’d be able to tell if we were speaking to a chatbot, but would we really? Or are we just as susceptible to being fooled as these people are? Are all of our friends actually just AI bots? Are we AI bots???

The Circle Lauren Season 6 Netflix
The Circle Lauren Season 6 Netflix

The Circle must have felt bad for the players, because they were told at the end of Episode 2 that one of their fellow contestants is a bot. (The producers probably wanted to avoid any potential fraud lawsuits.) But in an even more hilarious twist, the players then went out and accused each other of being the bot, never raising more than a whisper of suspicion about Max. Another player, Myles, even works as an AI engineer (!!), but when he was given the chance to vote out the player he thought was AI, he chose hippy-dippy psychic Steffi, who wasn’t even a catfish, let alone a computer. If he couldn’t figure this out, how could any of us?

Again, The Circle showed mercy on Season 6’s human players by revealing Max’s identity in Episode 5, following Steffi’s exit, and taking him out of the game. We kind of wanted to see how far Max could get in the game if he stayed in, but it was almost worth it to see the completely shocked looks on all of the human players’ faces when they found out. (Especially Lauren’s!) With AI slowly creeping into every aspect of our lives, it was a fascinating experiment to throw a chatbot into The Circle — and certainly eye-opening to see how easily it was accepted. Now can we go back to catching human catfish, please? We’d like to be able to sleep at night, thanks.

So how are we feeling about Max’s time on the show, Circle fam? Hit the comments below to give us your thoughts. Prayer hands emoji, red heart emoji, send message.  

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