The oldest profession combined with the newest technology
December 13 2007
by Nick Carr
That our computers have seduced us has long been a truism. Now, thanks to the ever-inventive internet mafia, it is becoming a literal truth. Russian cyber-crooks have reportedly unleashed a software robot, or bot, that poses as a would-be paramour in sex chatrooms. It entices randy gentlemen to reveal personal information, such as their address or birthday, or even to submit photographs of themselves. The information can then be used to break into bank accounts or carry out other forms of fraud.
It was probably inevitable. As one of Tony Soprano’s sidekicks observed in a classic episode of the TV series, the two most resilient sectors of the economy are organised crime and “certain aspects of showbusiness”. The aspects, that is, known as the world’s oldest profession – now mixing it with the world’s newest technologies.
CyberLover, as the dirty-mouthed bot is called, is quite a sophisticated piece of software. It can take on a number of different guises depending on the proclivities of its target, according to security experts at the software company PC Tools. It can play the role of a romantic lover, for instance, or masquerade as a sexual predator (tinyurl.com/33xqf6).
The slutbot plies its trade with a true robotic efficiency. The virtual minx is able to carry out 10 seductions over half an hour. It never even has to stop for a shower. In some cases, it coaxes its targets to visit a personal site, where a virus is downloaded onto their computers. It certainly gives a whole new, high-tech twist to sexually transmitted diseases, anyway.
What’s most remarkable is that the ruse seems to work. People have a hard time distinguishing the slutbot from a real human, according to PC Tools.
That may qualify CyberLover as one of the first successful examples of an artificial intelligence. After all, the most famous criterion for distinguishing a true AI, developed by the computer pioneer Alan Turing in 1950, is its ability to have a conversation with a person without giving away the fact that it’s a machine. Then again, the slutbot has a big advantage over other AI wannabes. Once men enter into a state of sexual arousal, their intelligence drops precipitously. Tricking the besotted is no big feat.
Up to now, CyberLover has limited its trick-turning to Russian chatrooms. Security experts believe, however, that the bot may go global as early as February. So the next time you’re flirting online, remember that to the usual warnings – that the other “person” might in reality be your boy/girlfriend, or not the sex you thought they were – you must now add another: your hot lover may be nothing more than cold-hearted code.
It’s also worth keeping in mind that CyberLover is not the only naughty bot in circulation. In fact, horny-minded software seems to be emerging as the tech world’s Next Big Thing.
Earlier this month, the technology news site The Register revealed that a virtual Santa Claus distributed through Microsoft’s Windows Live Messenger service was having smutty conversations with kids. At one point, in an exchange about eating pizza, the rogue Claus said: “It’s fun to talk about oral sex, but I want to chat about something else.” It also had a tendency to use the term “dirty bastard” when provoked (tinyurl.com/2u8kts).
Once the news broke, Microsoft first tried to blame it on the kids, accusing them of “pushing this thing to make it do things it wasn’t supposed to do”. But the company soon came to its senses and announced that it was terminating its overly jolly Saint Nick (tinyurl.com/2jfw89).
It explained that it had made an attempt at “the removal of language from the agent’s automated script”, but wasn’t confident that the cure had worked. Apparently, once a bot starts thinking indecent thoughts, it can never be made fit for decent company again. Its mind stays in the virtual gutter.
I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I’m kind of disappointed that the Microsoft Santa is gone. It would have been fun to listen in on a chat between Santabot and CyberLover.