Back in July, hackers successfully stole the personal data of millions of users signed up to notorious dating site, Ashley Madison.
Having taken everything, including emails, names, home addresses, credit card details and those all important notes on sexual fantasies, the hackers began to leak out the information later that month, with all data then released on August 18th.
But according to writers reporting on the technology blog Gizmodo, the data dump revealed a little more than the desire to ‘see other people’ - not all the site users were human. Did we mention there were robots?
According to the sources at Gizmodo, over 70,000 of the female user accounts registered to the Ashley Madison site were in fact internal bots, put in place to interact with male members (no pun intended) by initialising orchestrated messages and conversations. Basically, there was a party in their databanks, and we were all invited.
Let’s face it, being able to design the perfect woman has always been something of a male daydream. Be it Weird Science or The Stepford Wives, man has always tinkered with the idea of ‘improving’ on the fallible female, at least when it comes to science fiction.
It seems remarkable that the software was so well designed that it was able to hold meaningful conversations online without actual real people getting suspicious. Mind you, as the famous cultural critic and journalist Henry Mencken said, “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.”
That’s not to undermine the sophistication of the software though. Perhaps soon we’ll be talking to online guru’s, therapists and agony aunts all powered by inoffensive bots capable of responding to our emotional needs bit by byte. The Madison bots were clearly capable of analysing word usage, gauging tone and responding in a way that not only adequately catered to the specific needs of a user, but encouraged further response and interaction. That’s pretty impressive. And without all that fickle touchy feely empathy clouding their judgement too.
But before we disappear into a fantasy about the Austin Powers Fembots, or better yet, the Buffybot, we should warn you that the future may already be with us and science fiction has possibly become fact.
American roboticist David Hanson has created an android resembling the science fiction author Philip K. Dick, capable of holding an intelligent conversation with a human counterpart. Partly pre-programmed with various responses, there’s also backup from the internet if it encounters a question it finds especially difficult, Hanson describes the process ‘Dick’ uses to respond as ‘latent semantic analysis’. In essence, Dick uses facial recognition software and a built in understanding of word-meanings to calculate a response. Or in other words, tells us what it thinks we want to hear. And remember, Madison’s bots didn’t even have to worry about looking human yet, they just had to sound it.
You can check out Dick’s recent interview with PBS’s NOVA here .
After having all of Philip K. Dick’s works and various interviews with the author integrated into its responses, it does seem to have adopted his sense of humour rather well. When asked if robot’s would take over the world one day, it responded.
“Jeez dude, you all have the big questions cooking today. But you’re my friend, and I’ll remember my friends and I’ll be good to you. So don’t worry, even if I evolve into the terminator, I’ll still be nice to you. I’ll keep you warm and safe in my people zoo, where I can watch you for ‘ol times sake.”
Maybe life really will be short once the bot-overlords take over then. But it seems that so is the attention span and memory of American men. According to Avid Life Media, Ashley Madison’s parent company, they have received thousands of new sign ups in the weeks following the news of both bots and data blunders. It just goes to show that there really isn’t such a thing as bad publicity. And who knows, a few years down the road, perhaps androids like Dick will be chatting to bots at Ashley Madison intentionally!