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Artificial intelligence is changing the rules of sex

The time has come to talk about at least one of the thirty-eight elephants in the room. As you may have noticed, we are experiencing the beginning of a new digital revolution. Although we are still dealing with very primitive software at the moment, so-called “artificial intelligences”, or ‘AIs’, are popping up in more and more areas. Without delving into technicalities, it hardly matters if the chat with ChatGPT and the images created by Midjourney  are “just” statistical-predictive models rather than true inductive systems: the way forward is clear, and sooner or later we will be dealing with increasingly efficient AIs in every field. Sexuality included.

The first implications are already evident today, so it will be wise to examine them at least briefly so as not to be caught unprepared by the pitfalls large and small that they present. Today there are three main applications of artificial intelligences in the erotic field, each of which presents very different characteristics and challenges.

 

Virtual sex workers

GPT-4-based bots are already capable of supporting personalized chats that take into account preferences and past conversations with the user. They are typically used for customer care and online sales, but adapting them to “virtual partners” is remarkably easy-and in fact they have begun to spread on platforms such as OnlyFans, where they replace human operators who were already responding to thousands of fans on behalf of young ladies too busy escaping the IRS to chat online.

The next step, of course, is to create from scratch perfect partners, who by interpreting the user’s linguistic particularities can calibrate themselves to their erotic fantasies in a flash. At that point, the marketing possibilities are endless: such an AI can become a custom-made influencer with an uncanny ability to leverage the interlocutor’s vulnerabilities («I’m crazy about jocks… Have you ever tried these pills that give you abs of steel?»); a seller of services («Subscribe to our dating app, where you’ll find dozens of girls like me to sext with at all hours!»); an unscrupulous sex worker or a highly efficient expert in sexual extortion.

Leaving the inevitable sociological anxieties about virtual partners aside, the question we should probably ask is about the recognizability of artificial personalities in the sex work market. If you have ever wondered whether on the other end of a support chat was an underpaid and overstressed employee or a bot, imagine how things will evolve in the coming years. Knowing the gullibility of the average sex-seeking customer, I suspect we’re going to see some serious stuff.

 

Limitless porn

Guess where the biggest evolution in AI is focused? Obviously: in the pornography industry, which has always been the driver of every new technology. In particular, while the media were still busy being outraged by the “unbelievable novelty” of pictures created by artificial pseudo-intelligences, digital underworld sex maniacs had already been hard at work making hyperporn for a long time.

As a result, it is not difficult today to encounter images and short animations that make judiciaries around the world break out in cold sweats. In fact, in addition to relatively normal fake photographs, copyright and corporate regulation violations abound («We’re ruined! Ever since this photo came out of our store where Ikea employees are having a scat orgy dressed as superheroines, Marvel has sued us for reputational damage and our customer base has dropped by 70 percent! »), images of illegal practices such as zoophilia and pedophilia, and deepfakes – like the widely available ones of Emma Watson caught in… questionable attitudes.

The quality of this material is often low enough to make it immediately obvious that you are dealing with a simulation. Nonetheless, this is an area where progress is really happening on a weekly basis, so much so that I think we will likely reach results that are indistinguishable from the real thing-even at the forensic level-by the end of 2024. But what are the implications of all this?

On the user side, one would think they would be entirely positive. More sooner rather than later, it will be possible to give a short text description of any fantasy you want to see and have it “magically” appear on your display, without limits and in infinite variations. Further making the dopamine rush we feel when our desires are fulfilled even more instantaneous will probably reduce the average quality of real sex life … but there are no one-sided medals.

For those still trying to work in the field of “adult content”, however, this is an unprecedented disaster. Why should anyone pay professionals when they can have perfection almost for free? Until now, the answer was «to feel the human relationship with the stars», but… remember what I wrote just a few lines above?

 

Expert-proof fakes

The area of greatest concern, however, is illicit materials. Want to harm someone? Just spread a hyperrealistic photo of them (and tomorrow a video, perhaps with artificially recreated voices) while they are engaged in some unacceptable depravity.

At present all AI-assisted creation software place limits on use, for example with lists of forbidden words or prohibited topics. On the other hand, all of these programs also exist in downloadable and editable versions – Stable Diffusion alone, which specializes in the fabrication of elaborate images, has over 150 forks (specialty variants) online that circumvent all limitations, geared toward the production of pornography in even very extreme genres.

The key point here is not only how recognizable the artificiality of the result is – which nevertheless plays an important role – but also its easy reproducibility, which makes any content lose its value. To return to the initial example: is there a photo that depicts me in execrable contexts and could harm me? No problem: I can flood the net in no time with thousands of similar, blatantly false images … which automatically discredit the seriousness of any accusation. Including the possibly well-founded ones, in fact.

But, sticking to the practical, the issue we are going to face in the coming years – not merely in the sexual field – will be the shrinking distance between imagination and finished creative product. What will the social, cultural and economic impact be when anyone can create optimal content without any need for special talent or commitment? I’ll stop here or it would take a whole book to talk about it-probably getting every prediction wrong anyway.

 

Artificial Extremism

Artificial intelligences seem to be having – for the moment, at least – a similar impact in every field they have landed in. Their mainstream applications tend to produce uniform creations drifting toward effective, simple, bland mediocrity. It is the triumph of political correctness to keep everyone happy and prevent controversy: serviceable but boring.

Away from the eyes of the general public, however, whole communities of experimenters enjoy taking the brakes off their software, boosting their engines and pushing them to the limit without concern for the consequences. The results are bizarre, extreme, estranging experiments, sometimes mysteriously suggestive but always far removed from common taste.

The same phenomenon seems to repeat itself in the erotic realm. On the one hand there is a tsunami of stereotypes that are basically interchangeable with each other, and on the other we have communities of raging lunatics who exchange programming recipes to generate the “best” images of furry families sodomized to death by Nazi dragons, or similar nonsense.

The same extremization can then be seen in the behaviors encouraged by such material. Those who were already locking themselves in their homes gooning over incel propaganda have begun masturbating to idealized virtual porn stars, those who harbored violent fantasies are now collecting endless hyper-realistic atrocities, those who reduced their sexuality to the online dimension only are falling apart if their favorite bot gets censored, and so on.

But if this is the case … what does the other end of the revolution triggered by sex AIs look like?

 

The bright side of sexual artificial intelligence

When a new phenomenon appears, it feels instinctive to focus on its most anxiety-provoking aspects. However, once the initial fear has subsided, it is much more useful to start reasoning about what benefits it may introduce. In the case of AI in the sexual domain, for example, the lessons we are learning in this exploratory phase suggest several extremely interesting applications.

Thus, the patience, competence and “insight” of conversational bots makes them excellent sex educators, capable of bringing useful and correct information to the many contexts in which sex ed is still taboo. Several experiments have also found that people tend to feel less embarrassed when engaging in conversation with a machine, so one could overcome the reticence typical of those who turn to experts on intimacy-related topics.

Manipulative communication strategies which are opposite to those used to isolate users in “bubbles” for marketing purposes can instead be employed by artificial personalities to help people overcome trauma and sexual difficulties, leading them to re-establish peaceful relationships.

Indeed, AIs entirely analogous to those used to explore increasingly abject porn could offer discreet suggestions for not confusing erotic fiction with reality – a problem that is already pervasive even without the need for malicious software.

 

What now?

As I mentioned, making predictions about complex questions such as ‘where will artificial intelligence take us?’ is downright impossible. On the other hand, it is always useful to keep our eyes open to what is going on around us, lest we later find ourselves overwhelmed by phenomena that were incomprehensible only to those who were distracted. GPT-3 – the linguistic engine behind most of the bots operating today – is often still described as a new thing, but it is now three years old, during which companies and individuals of all kinds have worked without pause to introduce us to it even in very unexpected places. Dall-e, the first image generator that can be used by anyone, is an ancient dinosaur from 2021, and yet some people are still wondering whether «will computers ever be able to create art?»

As far as we are concerned, being aware of the dark sides and opportunities offered by AI in the sexual sphere allows us to avoid some pitfalls and give some good advice, while better understanding what the complicated legal and jurisprudential battles going on around this issue really signify.

That will have to suffice for now, but I am sure this is a topic we will return to often in the future.

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