Three unmentionable insights about people, free from Ashley Madison

By Larry Kummer, Editor of Fabius Maximus, a multi-author website with a focus on geopolitics: 

This post describes three lessons from Ashley Madison that are dark and so seldom mentioned by our clickbait media:

Ashley Madison

  1. Millions of women used Ashley Madison.
  2. We become criminals for a good paycheck.
  3. Bots can easily become good enough for men.

The story of the rise and fall of the Ashley Madison cheating service reveals much about us. It reminds us of old truths, such as that many men want to cheat on their spouses. It reminds us of things about which we don’t care, such as that early news stories contain much guesses and bunkum (OK so long as it’s fun and confirms our views). It reminds us of things too dark to see, such Americans’ willingness to work for criminals — and even be criminals. It reveals powerful trends not yet seen, but will shape our future.

Millions of women used Ashley Madison

GIZMODO journalist Annalee Newitz electrified the intertubes with her discovery that Ashlee Madison hosted 31 million men looking to hook up with only 12,000 women (“there’s a good chance that about 12,000 of the profiles out of millions belonged to actual, real women who were active users of Ashley Madison.”). So women were roughly zero percent of AM users: a triumph of virtuous women over lecherous men!

Few will learn of her later admission that she was wrong…

“Today Ashley Madison released a statement saying that I couldn’t have figured out how many active women are on the site based on the data dump. The company is right about that.”

After further research she reports that AM management sought a “sustainable male to female ratio of 9:1” (11%), but probably had roughly 5% women (and tens of thousands of bots pretending to be women). That’s roughly 1.6 million women. Aprox 1/3 of men’s contacts were with bots, implying the bots were far more attractive to men than the real women, or there were more than 5% women.

“Only 19% of men who paid to join Ashley Madison did it after talking to a real woman.

“… senior data analyst Haze Deng copied Biderman and COO Rizwan Jiwan on an email where he analyzed how much money men were spending to message with bots versus real women. Deng wrote that men who had paid for credits would, on average, pay to send custom messages to 16-18 different women. “Around 35% chance, the contacted female is an engager {a bot},” he admitted. “This ratio is not so good,” he added, but he still argued that it’s “reasonable” because bots will never reply to a paying member’s messages. So the bot won’t continue to lead the member on indefinitely.”

How many of the journalists who excitedly reported Newitz’s original false number will tell readers about the correction? Publishers’ incentives tilt overwhelmingly to reporting clickbait; don’t wait for confirmation. Americans are so often misinformed because we read the news.

We become criminals for a good paycheck

As a child I wondered how giant criminal organizations such as COBRA, THRUSH, and SPECTRE recruited employees? Not just their disposable thugs, but the pretty secretaries, supply clerks, and mechanics.

Time gave an answer: it’s easy. Enron’s fake trading floors, Wall Street firm’s fake research, the auto industry’s lethal cars, the tobacco industry’s concealment of its products’ effects, the chemical industry’s decades-long fight to hide the effects of lead, the coal industry’s fight to save pennies at the cost of their workers’ black lungs (which continued to our day, with the assistance of doctors at Johns Hopkins) — all involved large numbers of conspirators, from clerks and secretaries up to professionals and senior management. There were few whistle-blowers.

I doubt Ashley Madison had the slightest difficulty finding translators, programmers, and marketing executives. Without the hackers of the Impact Team, they’d be happily at work today. From GIZMODO

“Avid Life Media executive Keith Lalonde, who spearheaded international efforts for the company, sent a long email to Biderman and other senior management on June 27, 2013, with the subject line “how angels are made.” In it, he details how workers use something called the “fraud-to-engager tool” to build profiles. (“Should tweak it and rename it,” Lalonde noted. Um, yeah.)

“During Ashley Madison’s launch in Japan, Lalonde says that he got a “dump of over 10,000 lines of content” from the site’s English-language profiles. Then he hired people to translate them into Japanese. “[Translators] were not told that this was for creating profiles—though most figure it out,” he wrote.

“… It seems that everybody at Ashley Madison knew the company barely attracted any real women to the site.”

Bots can easily become good enough for men

“This will blow up the world. It will make crack cocaine look like decaffeinated coffee.”
— Anonymous (source here).

A post last month discussed the coming fembot revolution (aka sexbots), a shock our society far larger than the trivialities which obsess our tech experts and their journalist fans. We can see the growing sophistication of robot bodies, but skeptics point to the limitations of AI as the key barrier.

The almost trivially simple bots that recruited almost all of Ashley Madison’s paying clients suggest that these concerns are exaggerated. Ashley Madison made millions using bots far simpler than the ELIZA e-therapist built in the mid-1960s.  From GIZMODO

“The developers at Ashley Madison created their first artificial woman sometime in early 2002. Her nickname was Sensuous Kitten, and she is listed as the tenth member of Ashley Madison in the company’s leaked user database. On her profile, she announces: “I’m having trouble with my computer … send a message!”

“Sensuous Kitten was the vanguard of a robot army. As I reported last week, Ashley Madison created tens of thousands of fembots to lure men into paying for credits on the “have an affair” site. When men signed up for a free account, they would immediately be shown profiles of what internal documents call “Angels,” or fake women whose details and photos had been batch-generated using specially designed software. To bring the fake women to life, the company’s developers also created software bots to animate these Angels, sending email and chat messages on their behalf.

“To the Ashley Madison “guest,” or non-paying member, it would appear that he was being personally contacted by eager women. But if he wanted to read or respond to them, he would have to shell out for a package of Ashley Madison credits, which range in price from $60 to $290. Each subsequent message and chat cost the man credits. As documents from company e-mails now reveal, 80% of first purchases on Ashley Madison were a result of a man trying to contact a bot, or reading a message from one. The overwhelming majority of men on Ashley Madison were paying to chat with Angels like Sensuous Kitten, whose minds were made of software and whose promises were nothing more than hastily written outputs from algorithms.”

The stunning evidence shows the shallowness of many online conversations — and in the future, the probable shallowness of many online friendships.  It doesn’t take much to fool people. As Newitz says — “Your friends may be bots, and you could be sharing your most intimate fantasies with hundreds of lines of PHP code.”

Imagine what will happen when we get widespread use of software combining SIRI’s interface and AI capability from IBM’s WATSON — plus visually and tactically appealing robot bodies. The future is coming, and will be stranger than we can imagine. By Larry Kummer, Editor of Fabius Maximus

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  10 comments for “Three unmentionable insights about people, free from Ashley Madison

  1. Nick says:

    Not only has this been developed, but it is moving into the low-rent areas of Internet hooking-up. There is a large Chinese site that has done this in the most artificial way possible — a huge catalog of beautiful women, professionally shot in identical manners. When you’re on the site, there are constant pop-ups with pictures of beautiful women on them, with hokey little come-ons that incorporate your screen name. “Nick, I’m hungry for huge banana.” “Nick, lonely for kiss.” It has the spontaneity of a Sears catalog — but there’s something about a picture of a pretty woman along with an invitation to click. If you do, you get to chat to a real person for about one minute — presumably this person is not the person in the picture, and bears the same relation to the screen activity as a WOW gold-mining operation. I wonder if ANYONE on it is real.

    I didn’t pay to join the god-damned site, I don’t hang out on it, I clicked on it because my wife is Thai and she always has friends bugging her to find them foreign husbands. For a while we looked at these dumb sites, and I noticed how this one seems more automated. One way to tell is the women are all models. It’s probably a growth industry . . .

  2. Peepot says:

    Where are the criminal charges/law suits?

  3. MC says:

    Technically speaking this is nothing new. In the 50’s the US military concluded, after through studies, men are most likely to pay attention to a woman’s voice.
    Hence the then groundbreaking voice alert system was built using women’s voices.
    Some worked well (the one installed on the B58 supersonic bomber was nicknamed “Sexy Sally” both because of the voice and because it worked so well), others far less so (the one installed on the USS Seawolf nuclear submarine had such a habit of announcing flooding, fires and other catastrophes it led to far less flattering nicknames among both officers and enlisted men).

    In the end the Pentagon spent large sums of money to discover what anybody in marketing could have told them: men are very likely to pay attention to anything involving a woman, preferably a beautiful one.

    From Sexy Sally to car and beer ads featuring women the step was short.
    Ashley Madison and its many cousins springing up all over the place are just the continuation of that trend, with a Dotcom twist.
    Nominally speaking dating websites such as AM offer a simple service: putting persons in touch. Practically speaking, they have to offer much more: one of the disadvantages of working in a profession with a high bachelor rate (to which I add) is you often hear colleagues discuss the merits of this or that website when it comes to dating.
    Websites are carefully screened and judged according to many factors, chief among which is the availability of flesh and blood persons of the opposite sex: I think I heard the phrase “That website is full of bots and their employees posing as women” in 2010 if not earlier. In short AM was doing nothing new when it came to teasing customers into paying hefty registration fees for full access.
    Avid Media knew this very well, hence they decided to go for a very specific demographics: those seeking extramarital affairs.
    If their numbers are anything to go by, they did their math and research before starting.

    I won’t judge the whole thing from a moral point, but I’ve seen samples of the teasers they sent out to “guests” and Pater Tenebrarum (who I wonder if is a Dario Argento fan) has a major point in pointing out AM managed to make a buck or two out of the shallowness of online conversations.
    I can honestly say Amazon has better algorithms, and they send me emails peddling CD’s and books I’ve already purchased from them all the time.
    With all the ingenious programmers out there it should be relatively easy to have users give away just enough information to make better lures.
    But AM model was based on quantity, not gaining a reputation for sophistication: as Stalin rightly said “Quantity is a quality of its own”.
    In a way AM was Alibaba of the dating world: stack them high and sell them (not so) cheap.

  4. Brett says:

    I was going to marry a BOT,……..but she wouldn’t put out.

  5. Dan Romig says:

    If you’re a married man looking to score with another woman, just go to a Trader Joe’s around lunchtime. It’s a lot less expensive, and what you see is what you (might) get. Probably healthier too.

    • TJ Maven says:

      Dan, you’ve just diluted the lucrative TJ scene. Now we’ll have to move onto Whole Foods :p

  6. Genevieve Hawkins says:

    A smart man should think in terms of where the women are plentiful, even online. I have a friend, struggling actress in LA, unsurprisingly quite pretty. She joined a website to meet and marry millionaires. She had a few flings which led to nothing, except for the guys who got an Ashley Madison style hookup with a real woman on the other end…

  7. ERG says:

    I think the real moral to the story is TANSTAPOTI –

    There Aint No Such Thing As Privacy On The Internet.

    Remember that the next time you do some on-line banking!

  8. Julian the Apostate says:

    This meme is very common in science fiction. Hollywood loved it, it popped up in the Star Trek episode “I, Mudd” specifically, was hinted at in Westworld as “Roman World” where you could pursue your pleasures without consequence. There is a scene in the repair shop of a badly beaten fembot who fell afoul of a sadistic customer. Westworld was a cautionary tale predating Terminator. In one of Isaac Asimov’s Susan Calvin stories of a robot that through an accidental reprogramming could read minds and tell its owner whatever he or she wanted to hear. Hell hath no fury like a female robot psychologist scorned, and she ordered the robot destroyed. In Blade Runner Harrison Ford’s character hides the fact that the beautiful “woman” he rides off into the sunset with is a Replicant. Then you have Larry Niven’s Wireheads who can get lost in whatever virtual fantasy they choose (including the sexual ones) and literally starve to death because they don’t want to come back out. Real women are complicated, and rejection hurts like hell. An android who could be indistinguishable from a real woman, can’t reject you, never ages – could spell doom to the human race. There would be fewer women using them than men but your own personal Don Juan would be tempting. Regards, JULIAN

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