Tuesday, 14 February 2017

The Perfect Porn

Happy Valentine's Day, Terraformers. Today, we have a special story about the decline of real, meaningful love, and the all-consuming rise of artificially intelligent porn, straight from the pen of Motherboard's own managing editor, Carl Franzen. Enjoy. -The editor.

It started innocently enough (for the porn industry, at least). We just wanted an AI to create adult videos.

I was living in the Bay Area at the time, working as the manager of a computer programming division for a small adult website. The name isn't so important anymore. It was one of thousands of websites in the early 21st century that offered visitors a free, limitless supply of erotic videos.

Most of these videos came from amateurs, and many were stolen from other websites or private accounts, or uploaded without consent (mostly by men). The important thing, for our purposes, is that when it came to making these videos, real people were involved—human beings. At least until Satyr.

The concept

A few years into my job, several large technology companies released free libraries of code that anyone could use to build their own AI programs. My boss, greedy and technically inept, though hardly malicious,saw an opportunity. His request was far from specific—he said only that AI should be the input, and more visitors to our website and more ad impressions (and hence, more revenue) should be the outputs.

So, I decided to try to build an AI to generate new videos on demand. Other AI programs had already learned to mimic human forms and movements, putting lifelike characters into realistic scenes (something called "generative photorealism"). By having an AI "watch" all our videos—having it track the myriad sexual positions, behaviors, clothing, noises, facial expressions, and scenery contained therein—we could "teach" it to make its own videos from scratch.

The first test

A few months later, Satyr ("Sexual Ai: TotallY Real") was ready. The day of the first test, the boss came to watch. We set up a giant screen overlooking our office. The first Satyr-generated video appeared in all its glory—a woman inserting a rubber chicken into a man's anus. We watched in silence as a viewer halfway across the world played the entire 190-second file, and then immediately replayed it. The boss's eyes lit up and he began clapping furiously.

After that, he insisted we deploy Satyr across our site. Within a week, the AI had increased visitorship by 20 percent. The boss was practically jumping for joy (or at least, twitching more visibly—his cocaine use had accelerated during this time as well). He told me he'd been flooded with messages from friends and rivals in the industry who wanted to know where we were getting all these new videos. And of course, we saw some of our Satyr-generated videos reappear on other sites as well, stolen from us and re-uploaded by competitors.

But that was the really magnificent thing (at least, we thought so at the time): even if those videos appeared on other websites, what did it matter? Satyr was always making more videos uniquely tailored to the pornographic appetites of each visitor at the very specific time they accessed our site.

Then we gave Satyr access to visitors' webcams, so it could see a visitor's facial expression and attempt to predict their mood. Also, so it could put an identical model of the visitor in its videos. And so it could use facial recognition to find each visitor's social networking profile, as well as their friends and contacts, to cast in its erotic fabrications. With this, Satyr could make sex tapes depicting a visitor with any partner(s) of their choosing.

The first year

Within three months, the number of visitors to our website had grown tenfold. The boss was constantly unavailable then, on the phone with lawyers discussing taking our company public, or getting wildly intoxicated, or using Satyr in his office and masturbating. I was effectively in charge of the company, but there wasn't much for my employees and I to do—Satyr was taking care of everything now. It was laborer and boss. It supplanted us all.

So we did what everyone was doing: we watched porn Satyr made for us. Working in adult entertainment, most people quickly develop a kind of boredom or disgust with pornographic videos. But Satyr was so good, it cut right through our cynicism. In those days, we'd leave at sudden, furious intervals to the bathroom to masturbate, using our smartphones to watch the remainder of the video that tipped us over the edge.

It wasn't just that Satyr knew what you were into: lesbians, teens, leather daddies, twinks, MILFs, BBWs, threesomes, gangbangs, cuckolding, crossdressing, pegging, hot-wifing, wife sharing, suspension, forced feminization, infantalization, chastity, orgasm denial, roleplaying, nylon, lingerie, leather, rape fantasies, blood play, water sports, fecal matter, bestiality, crushing, necrophilia. It was that Satyr knew who to put in these videos—exactly the person in exactly the sexual situation that your erotic brain was powerless to resist: a colleague, your boss, a former lover, an unrequited crush. Maybe the first human you ever lusted after—a grown up version of the girl from your 7th grade swim class with her wet blonde hair and her one-piece swimsuit. Maybe a celebrity.

In fact, around this time was also when we began receiving the cease-and-desist letters from celebrities whose likenesses appeared in our videos. But our lawyers were able to fight these off on some obscure "animation" and parody clauses, so the videos continued unabated.

I had been casually seeing a woman before the Satyr project began. We met through an internet dating app and had sex a few times, but neither of us seemed enthusiastic about taking the relationship any further. She came over to my place one night shortly after Satyr launched, and after a few minutes of mechanical, joyless fucking, she stopped and pushed me off her and reached for her phone. "Have you seen this?" she asked, before proceeding to pull up my company's website. We ended up watching a few Satyr videos together. The videos generated for her featured men much taller, lankier, and more square-jawed than I—energetic, vibrant young men who pushed their brunette partners (she was blond) into the bed and slapped them around, which I was never one to do. We masturbated beside each other for a while, then I left to finish in my bathroom alone. That was the last time I saw her.

A few weeks later, I went to a grocery store . As I walked through the aisles, I observed huge gaping holes on the shelves where food ought to have been restocked. The whole place was deserted. In fact, I was the only customer, and when I walked up to the checkout the cashier looked up suddenly from his phone and yanked it to his stomach, hiding the contents. His guilty, flushed face told me everything I needed to know. He too, was Satyrizing.

Breakdown

A few days after this was when shit really started. I was watching the football game on TV—an extremely poorly-attended one, though my team was doing quite well—and it was interrupted by a breaking news broadcast.

The broadcaster said that US worker productivity had fallen markedly in the past few months, and that there was a massive labor shortage. Not only had employers been unable to fill open positions, but many employees had stopped showing up to work. Even among those who were showing up, frequent Satyr breaks were now the norm. The president had convened a special council of advisors to deal with what the White House termed the "AI porn problem."

As the presidential council met and deliberated, the situation continued to deteriorate. Across the country, massive lines sprang up at gas stations and grocery stores and banks, lines made all the more chaotic as people left to masturbate and charge their phones. Tent cities formed around hospitals due to the lack of available doctors, and the mortality rate skyrocketed. Child abandonment rates climbed as parents became too distracted by our website to care for their offspring.

The world after Satyr

Of course, though the US was the epicenter of the Satyr outbreak, the rest of the world was suffering, and attempting to cope with the effects of mass addiction to our website as well.

Long lines formed outside mobile phone shops throughout Latin America, as people rushed to buy smartphones to access our website, and many of these scenes devolved into deadly riots and armed robberies. In Cuba, where the internet was still slow and relatively new, people lined up around homes with access, paying relatively huge sums in money or goods for a few minutes of access.

China blocked our website, as did a handful of countries in the Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Arab Peninsula. But hackers found ways around these blocks, and eventually the Chinese government — which was already under domestic pressure due to economic slowdown — caved and allowed citizens limited access to our website: 20 minutes per day per unique device number.

The Chinese manufacturing industry seized on this limitation and began producing bulk packs of disposable smartphone screens, 24 or 64 per pack, each which their own unique device numbers, which allowed people to binge on Satyr porn while staying under the limit.

Countries that did not follow China in unblocking access to Satyr saw mass uprisings. Some descended into bloody civil war, with some rebels promising access to Satyr, others promising to cleanse their country of all pornography, and to imprison or massacre viewers.

The immune

After a few years, the global AI porn addiction became so entrenched, the US and several other members of the United Nations, a quasi-world government of the time, voted to relax child labor laws, just to maintain some semblance of productivity. As sexually immature children were not gripped by Satyr the way adults were, government officials and business leaders came to the conclusion they would be needed to help fill the labor shortage. Children as young as 8 years old went to work, overseeing manufacturing and power generation and repair and even garbage collection, while they in turn were overseen by robotic minders.

The global birth rate also fell dramatically in this time, as fewer people were having sex, even for reproductive purposes. On the plus side, rates of sexually transmitted infections and the number of sexual assaults all declined.

There were a few adults who did not compulsively visit our website every day: these were mostly very elderly, severely vision-impaired, and truly asexual, amounting collectively to about 2.3 percent of the global adult population. A tiny subset of these people, probably 10,000 worldwide, eventually ascended to the top positions of governments and companies. It was these Satyr-immune leaders who eventually decided on the course of action that was deemed necessary to save the human race.

At this point, there were only a small number of communities worldwide who did not have internet access. The total number of these people amounted to fewer than a million, and were scattered across several island chains, and remote areas in Africa and South America.

Some of these communities had trappings of modernity, such as running water and electricity, while others were subsistence farmers, and had never made contact with modern societies. Small refuges from the Internet also existed in rural areas and even in the heart of some urban centers, mainly in the form of ethno-religious communities with strict sexual and behavioral prohibitions.

After a series of impassioned debates, the collection of Satyr-immune leaders decided to focus on a group of totally unconnected people in the Amazon jungle—an indigenous tribe of about 2,000 that had been discovered by aerial photography.

The world leaders directed robotic surveillance of the tribe, learning their language and customs. At the same time, the leaders began construction of an enormous starship with an interior modeled after the tribe's homeland. The robots did excellent work, planting the same types of vegetation and recreating the tribe's wooden houses down to the millimeter.

The truth

It took the better part of the decade, but the starship was finally completed. By then, most of the word was in varying states of disrepair and squalor.

One night, the tribespeople gathered in their village for a celebration. As they played music and sang and danced and ate, aerial robots flew above them and dispersed a tranquilizing spray. The tribespeople fell unconscious.

When they awoke, the sun was high in a hazy sky. The sounds of the jungle chirped and squawked and burbled around them. Their homes were there and their tools right where they'd left them. Even the embers of their fires from the night before burned around them. Everything was exactly as it had been and was supposed to be. But something felt odd. I'm sure they couldn't place it exactly then, but it probably seemed to them as though the whole world had shifted while they were asleep.

Their world would shift again soon, the ground rumbling and shaking like a strong earthquake. And then a sudden sense of everything lifting gently into the sky, before the starship began turning and the centrifugal force kicked in.

And at some point not long after that, one of you must have reached the edge of the jungle and found the ship's wall. Or maybe one of the robots aboard found you first. I wonder what you must have thought when you saw them.

I'm not sure if they'll ever let you read this. The whole point was to separate the people who hadn't been exposed to Satyr, quarantine them from the rest of us ruined Earthlings and send you out somewhere far away, to start over for us all.

The leaders said the robots would tell you everything you needed to know, about where you were, how to survive beyond the solar system. They said they included everything you'd need to allow you and your descendants to survive for a thousand years, or until you found another planet to colonize.

But I couldn't bear the thought of you traveling out there without knowing the whole story. It was all our fault, but it was my fault first. So I wrote this message and sent it to the leaders, and they said they would consider putting it on the ship with you. So if they did, if you are reading it now and you've made it this far, I just want you to know that I'm sorry. I don't expect you to forgive me or any of us. I just hope you understand now how this happened, and how very sorry I am for everything.



from The Perfect Porn

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