Three unmentionable insights about people, free from Ashley Madison

Summary: 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.
  4. For More Information.

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.

(1)  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.

Crime under the microscope

(2)  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.”

Love revolution(3) Bots can easily become good enough for men

“Scientists estimate that by the end of this century, via the means of Virtual Reality, a man will be able to assimilate making love to any women he wants to through his television set. You know, folks, the day an unemployed ironworker can lay in his Bark-a-lounger with a Fosters in one hand and a channel flicker in the other and f*** Claudia Schiffer for $19.95, it’s gonna make crack look like Sanka, all right?!”

— Dennis Miller (comedian, actor), video 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.

(4)  For More Information

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Sexbot Science

10 thoughts on “Three unmentionable insights about people, free from Ashley Madison”

  1. FM says, “Bots can easily become good enough for men”.

    1) Most people are not emotionally crippled such that sex without a relationship is a happy substitute for a partner. True, men will believe most anything. And maybe someday AI produces human level intelligence and personality. I think the Japanese have AI pets.

    2) There are all sorts of class and status indicators that are important to a man when he takes up with a woman. Fertility and earning potential are important. Young and pretty are proxies for fertility.

    3) My opinions:: Live men and women will be preferred in the future until AI gets real good. Bots will be a growth industry. Sex workers at the low end will lose out to automation. (Has internet porn affected prostitution?)

    1. Have to agree with FM on this one. The above comment leaves one with the impression that people are all seeking the opportunity to paint rainbows, sing kum ba yah and only after generating a high degree of “love vibes” engage in wild porn style orgy as a means to better express and spread the love (along with various other things).

      Sex is a biologically driven behavior, mother natures way of ensuring the species continues, there is very little higher thinking involved; we save that for politics.

  2. Well Mr. Maximus, that is perhaps one of the most misogynistic explanations to have graced the pages of this blog. Hypergamy (though it can have it’s perks) was some what “bred” out of society when women gained access to the pot of gold our economy is capable of producing. Bots might more successfully fulfill a women’s other desires, like successfully fulfilling bedroom duties while also doing mundane things like mowing the grass or lifting heavy objects. Whoever invents this bot has also successfully eradicated the human species.

    1. KA,

      You consider pointing to hypergamy “misogynist”? Bad news for your ideals: scores, perhaps hundreds, of studies have shown this behavior in women around the world.

      As for “bred out of society” — your evidence? For example, showing women as indifferent to men’s level of income, wealth, or education when marrying — compared to men’s weighting of these economic factors?

    2. FM
      It is easy to refer to “scores of studies”, but usually a good Idea to site those studies in an argument instead of throwing the above phrase loosely about. But I agree there are scores of studies; and if we are speaking on a global level, then yes in many areas women do not possess the liberties we do here in USA. Women in the US have the ability to become educated and employed in Career fields that allow them the freedom to choose mating partners for other reasons beyond income and education. When one looks at society in this country, it is typical that people marry into situations with people from similar economic and educational backgrounds. The Cinderella story is cute in fairy tales, but is not a story that occurs much in reality…and I do believe this is what studies based on statistical data shows.

      1. KA,

        “usually a good Idea to site those studies in an argument”

        “I agree there are scores of studies”

        Researching to find citations on something you already know — which you’ll dismiss as “I know that” — is crazy. You make up stuff, which you state boldly — without pretense of evidence. I’m supposed to spend the time to give evidence, which you’ll obviously ignore. Nuts.

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