We’re All (Generally) ButtNekkid To the Robots

bite me

“Now, no one laments the death of a misogynist cellpool like /r/TheFappening.” -Jack Smith IV in BetaBeat.com

Well, actually I do, and I’ll tell you why…

Last week, an enormous cache of blue celebrity selfies was released into the maw of the internet. Dubbed “The Fappening” in honor of the onomatopoeic subreddit devoted to all things masturbatory, it was quickly catalogued, copied and disseminated throughout the darkweb via the slimy backwaters of /b/4chan, and from there hosed into the relative mainstream of reddit.com—where even I am active. It wasn’t very hard to find.

How the cache was obtained is a matter of conjecture, but rumor has it that some enterprising neckbeard, for reasons either venal or altruistic or both, was able to exploit a bug in the Apple “Find My iPhone” app to access photo files stored in the “Cloud.” Allegedly this was facilitated by hacking into the wifi at the recent Emmys (which teaches us not to twit and tweet at the same time).

As a result, we got an unedited eyeful of a bunch of ladies I’ve never heard of, in bad lighting with no makeup (or much of anything else) lolling about in various – and ultimately very human—poses. All-in-all, nothing we’ve not seen before, but singular in its sheer abundance and audacity. (Personally, I was more intrigued by the assorted clutter on their bathroom counters and the complete absence of any sort of reading material from their living spaces.) Nonetheless, much handwringing ensued. “They were violated!” “It was rape!” “That was private property and password protected!” “Only creeps would download.” “Don’t click.”

Of course I clicked–as did everyone else with internet access and a shard of prurience.

I clicked out of curiosity

I clicked because I support an unfettered internet that doesn’t deign to make my aesthetic, political or moral choices for me—even when it diminishes me and offends my sensibilities.

I clicked because my inner first world anarchist thinks it’s my civic responsibility to gawk at celebrities (who get paid handsomely to display themselves to the public) without having to shell out $14 and sit through their crappy movies in order to do so.

I clicked to support the fappers — who keep our internets vivid.

I clicked because it was there.

     But more to the point, I clicked to assert my dominion over the fucking robots.

An entire generation of Americans has grown up not knowing how to function in the natural world. Without the aid of our electronica and algorithmically-directed devices, half of us could not spell “misspell” or navigate our way out of a paper bag. We have robots to do that for us, so why bother to learn grammar or spatial orientation?

We have robots to direct our calls, direct our vehicles, direct our attention. Robots speak for us, manage our time, respond to our queries and requests, expedite our transactions, even prepare our food and care for our elderly. They fight our wars, analyze and manage our economy, bestow our credentials and confiscate our money. We even have robots for sex.

All of which is horrifying, but here’s where it starts to concern me:

Who programs the robots?

No one really knows. Individual coders only work on a section of the whole, which is then integrated (by robots,) into a larger whole—and that into a larger one still. At some point, the only accountability is to the robots working the operating systems—and no one has a clue where those might be or where they’re plugged in—or what they’re really thinking processing. When they go wonky, the results can be catastrophic; witness the exalted Wall Street “quants” whose robot trading algorithms damned near crashed the world economy a few years back.

Now, I don’t believe this started as anything sinister or ill-intentioned. Indeed, technology is supposed to streamline our lives and make our interactions more efficient. But somewhere along the line, we humans relinquished our personal responsibility and turned it over to a computer program–and this concerns me.

Living up here as I do, it’s easy for me to forget that there’s a whole other world going by down there in the flatlands– one that takes these encroachments for granted– even embraces them. Seeing as how I don’t have a cell phone, let alone a need for apps, I’m always offended when forced to talk to a machine instead of a human being. So when yesterday I called my health insurance company to inquire about a prescription, and my call was answered by a robot demanding my language preference and my private identification, I gave it grudgingly– and only after a few choice comments, which, I was informed, were “being recorded to assure quality.” Good.  I hope the thing heard them and took them personally.

Apparently satisfied by my answers, it sent me to another talking robot to find out what I wanted. From there I was placed in a queue to speak with an actual human being—who read to me from a robot-generated script and performed the robot-dictated actions for it before sending me on to another department’s robot to repeat the process– presumably until I either tired of taking to machines and gave up—or in my case, waited them out, outwitted their denial-of-service algorithms, and finally got my crummy prescription filled.

As I sat on hold listening to their looping and wholly unnecessary admonition that I continue to hold, it occurred to me that we’ve ceeded to robots decisions about whether or not we will be “authorized”, what our treatment options and protocols might be, and ultimately whether we’ll be sent to hospital to recover, or hospice to die. Maybe we’ll see a doctor in there somewhere, but increasingly, robots do the diagnostics, perform the surgery, and generate the billing. (Also program that god-awful wait music.) And that’s just our health care system. Robots are no longer simply a conveneince, they’ve become arbitors of our social institutions, incapable of dealing with the outliers, the exceptions, those that don’t or won’t fit into their closely-defined categories– there’s no arguing with them, because ultimately they’re just machines.

And this is just the beginning. Within a few more lifetimes, we will have melded seamlessly with our technology. Already we go about our daily exigencies attached to a “smart” device that tracks our actions and answers our questions, doing much of our thinking for us. We wear lenses that not only see for us, they color our perceptions and in some cases, create them, too. Shortly, we’ll have embeddable memory chips that calibrate our decisions, direct and record our thoughts and activities, then communicate them to…the “Cloud” (which is underground, by the way,) for storage and retrieval– but by whom, and for what purpose? Long before Stephen Hawking’s 1000 years left for humanity are up, our synthetic consciousness will have carried us beyond our bodies into electronic immortality—which will be maintained and administered by …robots.

The Fappening reminds us – in the most elemental way possible — that we are humans, naked and vulnerable to our robot masters– and that we put entirely too much faith in their benevolence. Do not trust them. Do not trust in them. When you let go of the “real”, you’re at the mercy of the virtual. And the virtual, real though it may seem, is literally made up of illusion.


That is all. 🙂


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