To be filed in the ever-growing folder of the technologically bizarre: Sexting with a robot. A well-named new game, Sext Machine, invites the general public to send nudie pics to a very apropos number: (669) 333-SEXT. But there’s a twist. Sext Machine is not about sending tit shots or dick pics; rather, the point is to send photos that capture a bare collarbone or the curve of a kneecap — something skin-based but G-rated — in an attempt to “fool” a nudity-detection algorithm into thinking it’s on the receiving end of something sexual.
Billed as a game to explore “the frailty of algorithms and human sexuality” by creator Mike Walker on his website, Sext Machine aims to play with and challenge the idea that some things are inherently sexy and some things are not by letting a robot decide what is or isn’t hot. After all, a bare collarbone or the curve of a kneecap can be sexy — think of the d’Orsay pump or the super risqué Victorian notion of pulling up a dress to reveal an ankle. If nothing else, perhaps this could inspire us all to be a little more creative when it comes to the things we choose to capture for our own sext lives.
Obviously, I had to give this a spin. I started off with a “;)” as directed by Sext Machine’s website. Immediately I got a response — a very fitting “how u doing bae? ;)” followed up with some boring directions. I responded with a zoomed-in photo of my palm. A minute later, I was told, “that pic makes me like 31% turned on rn”.
There was something kind of sexy about receiving a message that told me exactly what percentage of arousal this robot was feeling. It was odd, but I felt a little turned on when I received the messages. Even though they were from a bot. Even though they weren’t real. Perhaps it's inherently hot to sext, even if it’s just a game with a robot. I certainly didn’t have the same response I would if I were sexting with, say, my boyfriend, but there was something rather compelling about the game all the same.
So on I went. I tried a shot of my bellybutton, to which I was told, “thats soooo unsexy ;/”. Well, never mind. Thanks a lot, Sext Machine. Next I sent a two-hot-dogs-at-the-beach-like pic of my legs. The bot responded, “that pic makes me like 29% turned on rn”. I tried a photo of my upper arm; “where are the n00ds :(”, the bot said. I tried a shot of my calf: “that doesnt turn me on at all :(”.
I was starting to feel kind of pissed off, as though I were tease-sexting with an jerk who just wanted the money shots. I gave Sext Machine a shot of my whole arm and upper collarbone. “that pic makes me like 65% turned on rn :)” it said.
It was time for some outside help, for comparison. I wasn’t willing to send my own naked selfies, so I googled “butts” and sent the first thing that appeared: a cosmetic surgery website hawking something called a “Brazilian butt lift,” which featured before-and-after photos of saggy and less-saggy butts. I fired off a “before” shot. Bot: “that pic makes me like 38% turned on rn”. Then an after, which got a "17%" rating.
There’s something comforting about a nudity-detection algorithm that raises a redder flag for a saggy butt as opposed to a perky one. The algorithm, Walker tells Boing Boing, is a service “meant mostly for businesses who run sites that allow upload of user-generated content.” So apparently if you’re at work and you send a photo of your derrière before you get it lifted, there’s a better chance your company’s filter will catch it than if you mass-email the "after" shot. Good to know.
Walker also tells Boing Boing that he’s running texts through a program called Twilio, which stores everything. So, in very Big Brother fashion, you can’t have your own private tête-à-tête with a robot. “I definitely do not intend to share the photos with anyone, but if people want to experiment with actual nudity it's probably sensible to avoid anything identifiable,” he says. Perhaps this is just right, though — sexting with a robot while Big Brother watches feels like the way it should be. After all, technology is never really private — so why would a sext session with a bot be?