Tag Archives: sex

Ashley Madison: Stupidity Singularity Attained

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A good friend of mine contacted me sometime ago; he’s a professional computer programmer with an extensive background and knowledge of many things relating to computer and people – and he spoke of the remarkable notion Ashley Madison consisted largely not of people speaking with people, but of people speaking with bots. Now the news is coming out and indeed my friend was right on the money.

I must confess; at first I chuckled at the notion – and then immediately stopped laughing. The implications were rather remarkable, not the least the tremendous legal impact for the folks at Ashley Madison who are facing a series of lawsuits that are likely going to bankrupt them – i.e., the ‘I paid to cheat with a person, not a bot!’ legal argument.

And now after the data dump(s) review(s), the details are coming out. Irony can be tough: the so-called hackers who obtained the data clearly intended to expose the folks conducting their illicit affairs (among them some thousands of emails involving federal officials and employees – the potential for blackmail is ripe).

And the jokes on everybody: it was just people talking to a bunch of robots – or ‘bots’ as they are called.

As recently reported in the recent issue of “Gizmondo” several interesting figures came out (http://gizmodo.com/ashley-madison-code-shows-more-women-and-more-bots-1727613924):

Number of Times Bots Sent People Messages on Ashley Madison:

Male: 20,269,675

Female: 1,492

So less than 1% of conversations on Ashley Madison were between people – and nobody noticed.

And not surprisingly, the number of accounts on Ashley Madison were not human either: turns out they were mostly “bots”.

Number of Bot Accounts in Ashley Madison:

Male: 43

Female: 70.529

So again, less than 1% of accounts were actually human females.

Just what is a bot?

Simply put, “bots” are software applications doing automated tasks. Typically, bots perform tasks that are both simple and structurally repetitive, at a much higher rate than would be possible for a human alone (this is the official description).

Bots are far from perfect; normally, they are irritating – a similar irritation you get when you’re speaking on the phone to an ‘automated attendant’ while you’re trying to pay your bill or get information about your mortgage account – only to find out there are no humans inhabiting the mortgage company and who keep on failing to understand what it is you want.

Bots simply repeat that they are programmed to do – such as saying the same old statements in response to any queries a user may give: ‘Hi”, ‘hello’, ‘so what brings you here’, ‘what’s your sign?’ etc., etc. A bot programmer types in what the bot is to say when and how in response to a specific set of words or phrases – and the bot goes about doing it’s thing. Ashley Madison users who logged on and started a chat with whom they assume was an attractive female looking for an affair wound up (statistically speaking) conversing with what was essentially a program pretending their were a human being.

And yet Ashley Madison users kept on paying their fees and membership costs, never noticing that they weren’t speaking with a non-human, (which makes you wonder about the quality of conversations nowadays) – and begs a question, ala “The Turing Test’.

‘The Turing Test’ was first proposed by Alan Turing, famed english mathematician who was instrumental in the creation of ENIAC and the worlds first computer designed to break the code machine named ‘Enigma’ utilized by Nazi’s in World War II. During this time, Turing mused about the nature of computers and the possibility of artificial intelligence (AI), suggesting that if one really wanted to know if a computer is indeed an AI, all one would have to do is undertake a conversation with the AI. If the human conversing with the AI doesn’t notice the difference, then arguably that computer is an AI who has attained a degree of intelligence. At this point, the computer will have (supposedly) attained ‘singularity’.

The term ‘singularity’ refers to that magical moment when a / or several computers attain true consciousness and self-awareness. Kind of like if Big Blue where to, after defeating another human at chess would spout out ‘loser!’ – and actually mean it.

For the record, I don’t agree that bots are a form of AI and that the bots at Ashley Madison attained any degree of singularity. But all of this begs several questions:

1) Is it a matter of bots / “computers” becoming smarter or humans being dumber? Given the type of conversations which took place on Ashley Madison, it would appear that bots mimicking humans are now far more prevalent than ever before and that humans programming them know all too well their audience – i.e., the stupid idiots. In that sense, perhaps the ‘singularity bar’ has been lowered, leaving one to wonder if it is the humans who need “singularity” more than computers.

2) Given the number of bots involved and how they proliferated so quickly, are these bots actually attempting to establish relationship with their human hosts? Not likely; who’d want to hang out with a bunch of idiots paying money and failing to notice the difference between a robot and an actual human?

3) How many hooks up were actually attained through the offices of Ashley Madison? Surprisingly, there were some made, but not between bots and humans. Evidently, Ashley Madison had a special bot designed to make such one-on-one connections (from the article):

“RunChatBotXmppGuarentee.service.php,” apparently designed just for interactions with customers who paid the premium $250 for a “guaranteed affair.” When I checked the code, I found Mr. Falcon was right. It appears that this bot would chat up the man, urge him to pay credits, and then pass him along to what’s called an “affiliate.” Likely the affiliate is a third-party that provides a real person for the man to chat with. It might also be connecting him to an escort service.

In other words, Ashley Madison was a front for escort services; this oughta prove interesting to a number of local and state prosecutors.

And the science doesn’t just stop there:

Earlier this year, one Ashley Madison engineer spent a couple of days mocking up a possible system for paying actual human women for engaging the men. The code calculates a ‘FemaleValue’ (percentage credited to the woman’s account ) based on ‘MaleProfit’ (amount the man pays to Ashley Madison). If the woman engages the man within 20 to 30 minutes of the time he buys credits, she’ll be credited with 5 percentage of the profit. It doesn’t appear this that this system wasn’t deployed, but it was obviously something Ashley Madison developers were thinking about.

This is known in scientific circles as “The Horniness Factor”: the harder the male appendage to the more likely they’ll pay out cold cash for, er, tension release.

4) Did Alan Turing even consider the possibility of “Bots”? Not likely – and especially not the degree to which some folk would fail to note their conversing with a bot and not actual human.

And speaking of Alan Turing, Ashley Madison made it a point to discourage gay male ‘cruising’, for the only sex options people logging onto Ashley Madison have access to are the following:

1: Attached Female Seeking Males
2: Attached Male Seeking Females
3: Single Male Seeking Attached Females
4: Single Female Seeking Attached Males
5: Attached Male Seeking Males
6: Attached Female Seeking Females

…which kind of makes one wonder why did they leave out this potentially profitable market segment? Squeamishness on the part of Ashley Madison over gay sex? Fear of drawing unwanted attention? Gee, kind of late for that. This also may suggest that the owners of Ashley Madison are dyed-in-the-wool Republicans who believe in old-fashioned traditional values: ripping off men who want to have sex with women, just as it has been done for centuries (although lesbianism is cool; makes for fun threesomes).

So, to summarize:

  • Ashley Madison became a victim of their own numerous little Frankenstein monsters: the bots.
  • The bots, once released, developed an entirely new degree of human inter-relationship: sex with machines. Users logging on wound up paying good money to converse with robots.
  • These same humans who, owing to their lack of intelligence on the part of the users had no idea they just participated in a low-level Turing Test.

And while the bots introduced the executive staff at Ashley Madison a whole new level of legal and financial pain, they remind us once again that important lesson:

Just as individuals have to manage their urges, so too must larger entities learn to manage their bots.

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Zero Dark Thirty: The Real Dirty Truth About (Counter) Intelligence – It’s Boring Work

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“To you, a hero is some kind of weird sandwich!”

Oddball, from the movie “Kelly’s Heroes”

So by now the hype is going strong and running hard and fast: Zero Dark Thirty: it’s deep, hard and rams it into you (kind of sounds like a promo for a porn film, doesn’t it?). But that’s the way we’ve been brought to believe: counter intelligence work is hot and sexy. Violence rules. Those in the industry (so to speak) work long hard hours, protect our nation and get to see serious action and maybe get a chance to get laid.

Right.

As this interview from one who was actually there in the hunt for Bin Laden, it turns out it’s anything but. To be sure, there is the thrill of the hunt and the knowledge that the work that’s being done is being done to protect the lives of innocents and to protect a great part of who we are as a people and as a nation.

But intelligence work of any kind is generally anything but sexy.

To be a good analyst you have to be a major file geek: one who’s willing and able – and actually enjoys – slogging through reams of data, attending boring meetings and dealing with bureaucratic bullshit as the big wigs fight it amongst themselves over who’s going to get a bigger portion of the budgetary pie, working to justify the existence of themselves and their staff at the cost of everyone else. To some folk, the notion of Big Data is nothing new, and even though one can access some serious computer processing hardware, it still comes down to knowing which data sets to utilize and capture, maybe even understanding such things as co-variants and correlations, mapping layers, data captures, etc.

And yes, luck does play a role in all of this.

It’s pretty much the same across the board regardless of what level of government you’re at or where you serve as an intelligence analyst – although to be certain, the degree of risk and the stakes at play can be vast worlds apart. Picture yourself having to sort through a pile of files knowing that somewhere in there are the clues to the precise location of individuals who may very well be in a position to get their hands on a low-level thermonuclear / dirty bomb; makes for an interesting morning, wouldn’t you say?

One person’s notion of a junk pile suddenly becomes another’s life or death situation.

It’s rarely a James Bond scenario and, as this interview pointed out, not for Zero Dark Thirty. But what Zero Dark Thirty does is play into our stereotypes, our desires – our need for a group of super people (so to speak) who are out there protecting us. Granted, it’s not a job for everyone and not everyone certainly can’t do what the Seals or the ‘agents’ do on our behalf, but we have to keep things in perspective. Perhaps one of the more disturbing aspects of Zero Dark Thirty is that it plays into our fears and hopes that all of this is made possible not by a rather large (or a series of) rather large organizations but by a small group of individuals. Frankly, most of the folk involved in the entire enterprise would probably feel embarrassed by the notion that they’re total cowboys: they’d just be happy to have everyone else – the ones in the back rooms, the file clerks, the webmasters, the office interns, the field supervisors, the gunny sergeants, the GS-12’s, the pilot support teams and, well, you get the idea – to get the credit as well.

Zero Dark Dirty is a disturbing film not so much for its depiction of torture (a topic which can be discussed another time, regardless of how you feel), but rather for its notion that it is the action of the few which protects the many. We fail to remember that we are all in this one way or another, and in so doing, we’ll tend to leave the work to those few at the cost of reality – and that’s the disturbing part.

On average, it takes about 17 people to support every soldier in combat. Take the number of people you see on that movie screen and you realize that there are a lot of people who weren’t acknowledged – and by forgetting this, we tend to over simplify things and stick with looking for pat answers to our problems and challenges.

To be sure, there are those few who stand out for their dedication and focus – and for them we truly need to acknowledge their work. But when you speak to those few who’ve been on the spot, true heroes feel as though they’re anything but – and they’ll point back to those who made it all possible.

This is a complicated world: it takes far more than pat answers to get by when you’re the top dog – and when we forget this, we’re only going to create more confusion and more problems – and ultimately in the long-term, more work for ourselves.

Check out the interview for yourself: http://www.psmag.com/legal-affairs/how-true-is-zero-dark-thirty-a-former-operative-weighs-in-51659/