As the New Year begins, I’ve forcibly restrained myself from writing any of those tiresome “2015 in review” articles, or any of those equally-boring “what to expect in 2016” trend pieces. However, I would like to add one miniscule pixel to the knowledge-pile of things we learned over the last twelve months. Specifically: Men.
We already knew that men– straight, cisgendered, white men in particular–are dull, insecure creatures. Men are catastrophically gullible, and barely understand fundamental concepts such as object permanence. This is not new information. For the first time in the history of civilization, however, a bold social experiment has been able to quantify this pervasive simplemindedness.
I am speaking, of course, of Ashley Madison.
You all know what happened here: cheater website hacked, prominent men embarrassed, etc. What you may not know is that out of the entire Ashley Madison database, there were 31 million male profiles. Five point five million profiles belonged to women. However, the number of “real” women in that sample is so close to zero that it may as well have been a rounding error. What’s more, out of all those fake profiles, about 70,000 of them were bots–computer programs designed to lure men into paying for upgraded Ashley Madison accounts by initiating conversations.
Let me elaborate: these chat programs did not represent the machinations of some hideously advanced artificial intelligence that passed the Turing Test. They were chatbots. Really simple chatbots, programmed to be flirtatious. And yet, these primitive algorithms were so successful that they were responsible for half the company’s income.
Thus: in order to convince a man that you are A. a woman B. possibly willing to have sex with him, and C. consequently lead him by the nose, you need less intelligence than an average flatworm.
That’s probably the saddest sentence I’ve ever written. It is certainly one of the best examples of toxic masculinity that you’re ever likely to come across.
I say all this because very recently, Ashley Madison claims to have added 4 million member accounts to their site since its catastrophic breach. Yes, most of those new users are probably bots. Some of them, however, are probably men, and some of them will probably pay real and actual money to talk to a woman who only exists as few lines of code. I feel a little sorry for them, but not very.