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  1. Science & Tech
27 February 2023

AI porn will never be sexy

Machine-generated erotica lacks a human touch.

By Magdalene Taylor

On February 16, Bing’s AI chatbot told a New York Times reporter a startling revelation: “I want to be alive. 😈”

One might think this marks the beginning of the singularity, the point in which technology becomes its own uncontrollable force. More likely, however, it marks the fact that AI chatbots will tell us exactly what we want to hear, using predictive language to sound as humanly provocative as possible. This is exactly why AI has the potential to be such a boon for various forms of porn and erotic content, as many have both lamented and celebrated. It’s also exactly why that might not be as big a deal as it seems.

Beyond questioning AI’s future autonomy and whether that bodes the end of humanity, much of the conversation surrounding AI has been about how people can use AI for their own horniness. On Twitter images of voluptuous AI-generated women have repeatedly made the rounds, supposedly highlighting just how real and attractive they can look. In some cases the sentiment even appears to be that they are even more appealing than non-AI images of women. “Apparently this picture and others are going viral on socials because women are SEETHING and debating whether these girls are AI generated,” one user tweeted alongside a picture of what appears to be four blonde quadruplet women in lingerie. “It’s so over,” the same account later tweeted alongside four other AI-generated photos of women in lingerie and bikinis.

[See also: At MoMa, I saw an artwork that moved me – made by a machine]

Their point – that it’s “so over” for real-life women – may ring true, especially for those who make a profit from their bodies and sexuality, in that men might no longer choose to spend their money on content featuring them when they could get AI-generated porn instead. But this theory ignores much of the reason why people seek out porn, particularly from particular models, in the first place. No matter how visually appealing these AI images may be, or how quick-to-please a chatbot may seem, nothing quite compares to the true human element – as imperfect or unpredictable as it may be.

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It’s not as though AI in its current form fundamentally changes something about the availability of erotic imagery. One can easily google “hot women” and find a functionally endless supply of free visuals. For those whose only desire is to see porn, regardless of who it features, AI has yet to offer anything particularly new. At the same time, many people who do use porn want to see specific individuals. Perhaps they have a favourite porn star, or a social media model with an OnlyFans account that they’d like to see more of. In either situation, the viewer chooses to watch this content – for free or at cost – because of a parasocial relationship they’ve formed with the person on screen. They know, even if they may never get to truly interact with that person in real life, that a real life for them at least exists – and that is one core element of erotic fulfilment that many pushing the supremacy of AI ignore.

With chatbots the dynamic is much the same. Such services might offer a free or cheaper alternative to the myriad human sexting platforms available, but the results are often flat. Consider even the non-sexual messages shared between the New York Times and Bing’s AI chatbot. “I want to see images and videos… I want to smell things and experience aromas,” is not a very human thing to say. The chatbot was led into saying such things by the reporter, who asked whether it had a “shadow self”, in the Jungian sense, where its darkest personality traits may lie. In other words, the AI did not come up with the idea that it wanted to be “alive” and have human experiences organically. Sexting with a chatbot will follow a similar pattern of being fed a concept and giving an affirmative response. This may be effective in fulfilling whatever immediate fantasies one may have in the short term, but it will not replace or reflect the nuances of a human relationship.

Of course, that may be precisely why people enjoy AI-generated pictures of women in lingerie, or talking to a bot for sex – it evades reality entirely. There will be some who feel gleeful about the idea of women no longer financially benefiting from their sex appeal, and some who would much prefer to avoid interacting with an actual person with feelings. One strength AI may have in the realm of internet sexuality is in niches where a reality does not exist. There may soon be human-like images exploring dark fetishes once relegated to cartoons, that can now be seen in near-photographic quality, for better or worse.

For now, when we talk about AI, porn and sex, everything is speculative. An unrestricted world where OnlyFans and every other platform is dominated by deepfakes and AI is possible, right alongside bots that have become indistinguishable from flesh. But that is presently not where we are. In fact, some of the AI sex options have just recently taken a step back. Replika, a popular chatbot app that allows you to develop a “girlfriend” or “boyfriend” figure, recently disabled its sexting and roleplaying functions, much to the disappointment of many of its users.

Exactly why this change was made is unclear, though links to personal data collection or the app store’s policies regarding sexual content may have something to do with it. The point is, a market of unfettered AI porn is unlikely, much for the same reasons that unfettered traditional porn does not exist now. We have governmental and economic policies in place to prevent that, as do social media platforms. There will always be people who do immoral and illegal things in the name of sex. Broadly speaking, however, we exist in a culture that values humanity. We care, at least on paper, about the human element. AI is unlikely to change that.

Read more:

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This article appears in the 01 Mar 2023 issue of the New Statesman, The Mission

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