Right now, people are having sex with a computer.
I don't mean that they're having sex with a RealDoll or similar—although I'm sure they are.
I mean that there are people out there, right now, who are shagging a state machine.
Welcome to the world of computer-assisted self-bondage (LINK IS VERY VERY NSFW!). Using Arduinos, Heath Robinson-esque contraptions involving keys held in CD trays, and Bluetooth-enabled electrostim machines, men and women have programmed their own doms or dommes. A truly merciless dominant who will randomly please or hurt, and there's nothing the user can do about it.
(There's a Terminator misquote here that I'm desperately trying not to make.)
Meanwhile, there are dozens of other people who are attempting to chat up a slightly different state machine.
Advertisers on porn sites around the world have figured out that users are, shall we say, somewhat preoccupied, and there are a limited number of advertising techniques that will work. One of the most common ones is a "fake chat" ad—an attractive woman propositioning the user with the promise of, at least, some hot Facebook or Snapchat messages.
Some of the more advanced ads actually take the user to a landing page where a very, very crude script will respond to them.
This has been happening for ages, of course. So why am I talking about it now?
Because tech developments in other areas are about to turn the whole "sex with your PC" deal from "crude and somewhat rubbish" to "looks like the AIs just took a really unexpected job away".
Soon you may well be able to summon a succubus. Through your PC.
Rise Of The Chatbots
Summoned servitors are about to make the mother of all comebacks.
I'm rather enthusiastic about that on a fictional level. Indeed, the film I just released, DANGEROUS TREASURES, came very close to being called BOUND THINGS instead—it's a story of a couple of geeks who follow clues on a deepweb occult forum which lead them to have a lengthy and bloody interaction with the bound guardian of the treasure they're robbing. And the binding and summoning of guardians is key to the entire thing (hopefully not spoiling it too much!).
(Amusingly for the topic of this post, the reason we didn't call it BOUND THINGS is that it sounded rather too porny.)
Accidentally, I seem to have hit something of a zeitgeist with this one. Because in Silicon Valley, I'm reliably informed, the Wave Of The Future is exactly this: summoned, intelligent servants which you can control if you know their True Name.
Forget apps. The new line is "there's a bot for that".
Rise Of The Chatbots
- Messaging apps got huge.
- Chatbots, which have been around for ages, benefit a lot from the improvements in AI recently.
- It's possible to plug A into B comparatively easily.
- And that enables a very natural interaction where you simply message the pizzabot, say, and it sends you a pizza.
- Replace "pizza" with "Uber", "Grocery", "Plane Ticket" or "Escort" as appropriate.
There's no need to install an app and grant it permission to do everything from track your location to access your selfie collection. There's no need to bash your way (pun not intended) through a confusing new interface. Just message and It Is Done.
This is a very similar idea to the old "AI agent" concept that has been knocking around for a decade or more, but this time the ecosystem's right. We have natural language processing sophisticated enough to comprehend most messages. We have messaging systems that everyone uses, with APIs that allow bots to access them. And we're sick up to the back teeth of apps.
By now you're probably thinking "And we've got learning bots too!". You're right. And this is where we go back to the "fucking a CPU" thing.
We've already seen Microsoft unveil Tay, their twitter bot. A lot of people have written about its rapid transformation into a shitposting racist as an amusing side feature, or a huge and terrifying weakness. But they have that the wrong way around.
Microsoft Tay, and it's /pol/ification, is where the Chatbot Revolution really begins.
Markov Chain Dirty To Me
So let's go back to our porn surfer chatting up a state machine, and our self-bondage enthusiast tied to a Bluetooth vibrator.
And now let's add a learning bot into both those situations.
One of the most successful techniques in current AI research - used by Google's DeepMind amongst others - is called "Regret-based learning". Essentially, the bot is given a goal, and gets upset when it doesn't achieve it. Thus, it rapidly learns to optimise its approach to achieve that goal.
Sex, in a myriad of forms, is an excellent candidate for a regret-based AI. For the advertisers, the win condition is simple: the user clicks through to whatever they're advertising and purchases, signs up, or whatever.
For the bondage enthusiasts, it's orgasm and sexual arousal - both of which can be measured if said user doesn't mind strapping some electronics to their genitals.
There's already an active project - with talk of crowdfunding - aiming to link masturbation machines to a machine-learning program via a variety of techniques for spotting imminent orgasm. (I'll not link to that particular piece of research, but you can probably find it with a bit of Googling.)
And in both cases, there's enormous demand, and absolutely no reason a bot can't be trained up by exposing it (pun, once again, not intended) to hundreds of thousands of users at the same time. Indeed, for a pure chat bot it would be tremendously cheap - a few hundred dollars - to buy access to a massive array of users for extremely rapid training thanks to the generally low value of porn site advertising space.
Even if the intention isn't to shill an adult dating site or similar, but to develop an effective AI replacement for a phone sex line, it's comparatively simple to add in conditions for regret-based learning. At the most obvious level, a simple Uber-style star rating would give the bot enough feedback to begin optimising.
I for one welcome our AI Dominatrixes
But could our sexbot actually ever get good enough to be convincing? I can't see why not.
Computer-generated dialogue has gotten pretty good, to the point that several chatbots have arguably passed the Turing Test. One of the criticisms of that chatbot was that it cast itself as a very particular role and personality in order to appear convincing - which is obviously something that is eminently doable for a fantasy chatbot too.
In addition, by its very nature sex texting tends to be somewhat inarticulate at points. From what I saw of Tay's output - Nazi propaganda aside - a similar level of quality would pass perfectly well in sexual chat.
Sure, a bot might not be able to construct sophisticated fantasies. But are those 100% necessary, or can it learn to please based on call and response?
2015 was the year that computers got better than humans at recognising images.
Could 2017 or 2018 be the year that computers get better than humans at dirty talk? Or, indeed, BDSM dominance?
There'll certainly be a lot of enthusiasm for the concept.
Pardon me. I'll be in my bunk.
What do you think? Could you see the oldest profession being on the AI chopping block? Would you ever talk dirty to a robot?