Then, there are Bitcoin enthusiasts. I’ll just come out and say I have mixed feelings about them.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to diminish what a remarkable technology Bitcoin is. It is a complicated and, at times, confusing technology. Even the Wikipedia page only does so much to explain what it is, where it came from, and why it matters. That’s not surprising. There was plenty of confusion about the internet too when it first emerged.
While I don’t consider myself an enthusiast, Bitcoin has sparked my curiosity. I do sometimes look into major news stories and developments surrounding the technology. The fact that it has lasted over a decade and made some people legitimate millionaires is proof enough that Bitcoin has real, tangible value. Those who keep saying that Bitcoin is just a fad or will crash are becoming increasingly scarce.
I’m convinced that Bitcoin, and other cryptocurrencies like it, are here to stay. They’ve proven that they have value in an increasingly digital landscape. As the internet becomes more prevalent and accessible, their role will only grow. That being said, I’m not yet convinced Bitcoin’s role will go beyond a certain point.
Those who say Bitcoin is the future of money are likely talking in hyperbole.
Those who say Bitcoin and the blockchain are the most revolutionary technologies since email are also likely exaggerating.
I don’t doubt for a second that these people believe in what they’re saying. I just haven’t seen enough to warrant that kind of enthusiasm. The issue isn’t as much about the merits of the technology as it is about how it’s being used. I’m not just referring to its role in the illegal drug trade, either.
At the moment, Bitcoin is fairly accessible. If you have a smartphone and an internet connection, you can download a simple wallet for free. If you do a quick search for a Bitcoin ATM, you can purchase Bitcoins with the same ease you would when purchasing a gift card. It’s what you do after that where the issues arise.
What exactly can you buy with Bitcoin that you can’t buy more easily through other means? That’s not me being facetious. This is where I tend to diverge with Bitcoin enthusiasts. I understand that some major ecommerce sites accept Bitcoin, namely Overstock. I’m also aware that more and more retailers are accepting Bitcoin.
However, the only ones taking advantage of that option are those who go out of their way to use Bitcoin. For most people, especially those who aren’t as tech savvy, there just aren’t enough benefits to warrant the extra effort. On top of that, Bitcoin does have some lingering flaws that are hard to work around. Then again, you can say the same thing about traditional money.
Now, that could change. It’s not a certainty, but it is a possibility. Like any new tech, the issue isn’t always about whether or not it works. Bitcoin clearly works and it’s been working for nearly a decade. It’s whether or not there’s a “killer app” to entice ordinary people to go through the effort of learning about, acquiring, and using Bitcoin.
The problem is that, thanks to incidents like the Silk Road, the primary use of Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies like it have been for the purchase of drugs or other illicit services. Regardless of how you feel about the politics surrounding illegal drugs and services, that’s the reputation Bitcoin has. It’s just a way for criminals and their cohorts to operate.
That’s not a killer app. It’s also not sustainable.
In order for Bitcoin to play a bigger part in our future, it needs to have a good, meaningful use. It took cell phones decades to find that. Just being able to make phone calls, remember phone numbers, and occasionally host a game of solitaire wasn’t enough. Other apps like music, video chatting, and cameras had to get into the mix before the public and the market embraced them.
That’s what Bitcoin needs. I don’t claim to know what that entails. I think Bitcoin has to get to a point where using it is as simple as using a credit card or debit card. It also needs a particular use or product that will justify the physical and financial investment. That use also can’t be illegal. It’s no secret that the internet owes much of its early growth to the porn industry, but porn isn’t illegal.
In the meantime, I’ll certainly keep an eye on Bitcoin. I don’t deny it has its uses in the current world. It’s just too limited right now. Whether it has a large or small role in the future that awaits us remains to be seen.
Many years ago, I created my first email address before logging into the internet. It was a simple AOL account. I didn’t give it much thought. I didn’t think I was creating anything valuable. At the time, the internet was limited to slow, clunky dial-up that had little to offer in terms of content. I doubt anyone saw what they were doing as creating something of great value.
I still have that email address today in case you’re wondering. I still regularly use it. I imagine a lot of people have an email address they created years ago for one of those early internet companies that used to dominate a very different digital world. They may not even see that address or those early internet experiences as valuable.
Times have changed and not just in terms of pandemics. In fact, times tends to change more rapidly in the digital world than it does in the real world. The data we created on the internet, even in those early days, became much more valuable over time. It served as the foundation on which multi-billion dollar companies were built.
As a result, the data an individual user imparts onto the internet has a great deal of value. You could even argue that the cumulative data of large volumes of internet users is among the most valuable data in the world.
Politicians, police, the military, big businesses, advertising agencies, marketing experts, economists, doctors, and researchers all have use for this data. Many go to great lengths to get it, sometimes through questionable means.
The growing value of this data raises some important questions.
Who exactly owns this data?
How do we go about treating it from a legal, fiscal, and logistical standpoint?
Is this data a form of tangible property, like land, money, or labor?
Is this something we can exchange, trade, or lease?
What is someone’s recourse if they want certain aspects of their data removed, changed, or deleted?
These are all difficult questions that don’t have easy answers. It’s getting to a point where ownership of data was an issue among candidates running for President of the United States. Chances are, as our collective data becomes more vital for major industries, the issue will only grow in importance.
At the moment, it’s difficult to determine how this issue will evolve. In the same way I had no idea how valuable that first email address would be, nobody can possibly know how the internet, society, the economy, and institutions who rely on that data will evolve. The best solution in the near term might not be the same as the best solution in the long term.
Personally, I believe that our data, which includes our email addresses, browsing habits, purchasing habits, and social media posts, should be treated as personal property. Like money, jewels, or land, it has tangible value. We should treat it as such and so should the companies that rely on it.
However, I also understand that there are complications associated with this approach. Unlike money, data isn’t something you can hold in your hand. You can’t easily hand it over to another person, nor can you claim complete ownership of it. To some extent, the data you create on the internet was done with the assistance of the sites you use and your internet service provider.
Those companies could claim some level of ownership of your data. It might even be written in the fine print of those user agreements that nobody ever reads. It’s hard to entirely argue against such a claim. After all, we couldn’t create any of this data without the aid of companies like Verizon, AT&T, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google. At the same time, these companies couldn’t function, let alone profit, without our data.
In that case, your data does not at all function like property. Even if it’s yours, you can’t always control it or what someone else does with it. You can try to take control of it, but it won’t always work. Even data that was hacked and distributed illegally is still out there and there’s nothing you can do about it.
Despite those complications, I still believe that our data is still the individual’s property to some extent, regardless of what the user agreements of tech companies claim. Those companies provide the tools, but we’re the ones who use them to build something. In the same way a company that makes hammers doesn’t own the buildings they’re used to make, these companies act as the catalyst and not the byproduct.
Protecting our data, both from theft and from exploitation, is every bit as critical as protecting our homes. An intruder into our homes can do a lot of damage. In our increasingly connected world, a nefarious hacker or an unscrupulous tech company can do plenty of damage as well.
However, there’s one more critical reason why I believe individuals need to take ownership of their data. It has less to do with legal jargon and more to do with trends in technology. At some point, we will interact with the internet in ways more intimate than a keyboard and mouse. The technology behind a brain/computer interface is still in its infancy, but it exists and not just on paper.
Between companies like Neuralink and the increasing popularity of augmented reality, the way we interact with technology is bound to get more intimate/invasive. Clicks and link sharing are valuable today. Tomorrow, it could be complex thoughts and feelings. Whoever owns that stands to have a more comprehensive knowledge of the user.
I know it’s common refrain to say that knowledge is power, but when the knowledge goes beyond just our browsing and shopping habits, it’s not an unreasonable statement. As we build more and more of our lives around digital activities, our identities will become more tied to that data. No matter how large or small that portion might be, we’ll want to own it as much as we can.
It only gets more critical if we get to a point where we can fully digitize our minds, as envisioned in shows like “Altered Carbon.” At some point, our bodies are going to break down. We cannot preserve it indefinitely for the same reason we can’t preserve a piece of pizza indefinitely. However, the data that makes up our minds could be salvaged, but that opens the door to many more implications.
While that kind of technology is a long way off, I worry that if we don’t take ownership of our data today, then it’ll only get harder to do so in the future. Even before the internet, information about who we are and what we do was valuable.
This information forms a big part of our identity. If we don’t own that, then what’s to stop someone else from owning us and exploiting that to the utmost? It’s a question that has mostly distressing answers. I still don’t know how we go about staking our claim on our data, but it’s an issue worth confronting. The longerwe put it off, the harder it will get.
I don’t know if I’ll live long enough to see all of them, but I want to make the effort. I want to experience the future and not just speculate about it.
This brings me to Bitcoin. Now, before I go any further, let me disclose that I am not one of those hardcore, uber-libertarian Bitcoin fans who see Bitcoin as the technology that will bring down corrupt governments and banking cartels. I’m also not among those who think Bitcoin is a total scam. For this technology, I try to keep my perspective balanced.
I see Bitcoin the same way I see email. It’s basically a digital form of a tangible thing/service that we’re familiar with. Email was a supplement to regular mail. Bitcoin is simply a supplement for money. Email didn’t end all forms of regular mail. As such, I don’t see Bitcoin ending all other forms of money.
As for the technology behind it, I’m no expert, but I definitely see the value. Bitcoin, unlike other currencies, has no boarders. It has no middlemen or central authorities. It doesn’t require a big bank or some other financial institution to authorize it. All it requires is an internet connection and a smart device with an app.
Beyond the money, the technology behind it, most notably the blockchain, has some exciting applications. It promises to change the way we process, manage, and scale big data. It has the potential to create secure, decentralized operations that can’t be run from the top-down by the future Mark Zuckerbergs of the world.
Even if you think Bitcoin has no inherent value, I hope you see the value in that.
Now, I have been following news about Bitcoin since 2013. I remember the first time it became a major source of headlines. It was primarily associated with black market economies on the dark web, namely the Silk Road. That was not necessarily a good association, but that didn’t stop Bitcoin from growing considerably in both value and use.
However, I didn’t invest in it or seek to buy any Bitcoins. Some of that was mostly because it was still so new. I wasn’t sure what to make of it and I didn’t necessarily trust the early Bitcoin wallets. It also didn’t help that some of the early Bitcoin exchanges went completely bust.
I understand this era still created plenty of Bitcoin millionaires. Those people are the lucky ones. Even after 2013, I don’t think we’ll see Bitcoin create any more millionaires like that. I still watched Bitcoin with a skeptical eye. I didn’t want to buy in until I could be sure it was able to weather these upheavals.
In hindsight, I think I waited too long. At this point, I think Bitcoin has proven its worth and its utility. It’s been around for more than a decade now. If it were a bubble or a scam, it would’ve failed long ago. Even if I’m late to the party, I can safely say that I have finally joined in.
Granted, I didn’t put my whole life savings into Bitcoin. I decided to start off small and honestly, it was a lot easier than I thought.
Here’s what I did to get my first batch of Bitcoin money.
Step 1: I downloaded a basic Bitcoin wallet, namely BRD. It’s the simplest, least cumbersome wallet I could find.
Step 2: I compiled about $100 in cash. These were just a bunch of $20 bills I had in my drawer. They were actually bills I got from Christmas cards. Since I buy most of my stuff with credit cards and my phone, I really didn’t have much use for them.
Step 3: I went to a gas station up the road from my house, which had a Bitcoin ATM. I used that ATM to purchase $100 in Bitcoin. It took less than four minutes.
That’s it. That’s all I did. I didn’t have to give my bank account number to anyone. I didn’t have to give my credit card number to anyone. I just took some bills that I probably wasn’t going to spend anyways and turned it into digital currency. I have every intention of purchasing more down the line.
In terms of loose change or extra bills, I believe Bitcoin is actually better than just letting that paper money gather dust. Unlike bills, Bitcoin’s value actually has the potential to go up. That’s something paper money rarely does.
It’s a key part of Bitcoin’s legendary volatility. That sort of thing turns a lot of people off and I understand that. They don’t want to wake up one mourning and find out their money lost half its value.
However, I would counter that paper money would lose that same value, but just over a longer period of time. It’s like owning fruit. It’ll only ever rot. It’s never going to get fresher. Bitcoin is a bit more like a game of cards, but with the odds in your favor.
That $100 was only going to get less valuable sitting in my drawer. At least with Bitcoin, there’s at least a possibility that $100 could be worth a lot more later this year. Compared to what inflation does to money, I’ll take those odds.
For now, I just wanted to share my experience. I genuinely believe that Bitcoin and the technology behind it is going to be a big part of our future. It may not completely replace money, but it will improve on what we’ve got.
I’ll share more stories as the year unfolds. In the meantime, I’ll leave everyone with this little anecdote.
The first known Bitcoin purchase was on May 22, 2010 when a man named Laszlo Hanyecz bought a pizza for 10,000 Bitcoins. As of this post, one Bitcoin is valued at $32,711. That means someone payed $327,110,000 for a pizza.
In general, I root for technology and technological progress. Overall, I believe it has been a net benefit for humanity. It’s one of the major reasons why we’ve made so much progress as a global society in the past 100 years.
That said, there is another side to that coin and I try not to ignore it. Like anything, technology has a dark side. It can be used to harm just as much as it can be used to hurt, if not more so. You could argue that we couldn’t have killed each other at such a staggering rate in World War II without technology.
It’s not hyperbole to say that certain technology could be the death of us all. In fact, we’ve come distressingly close to destroying ourselves before, namely with nuclear weapons. There’s no question that kind of technology is dangerous.
However, artificial intelligence could be far more dangerous than any nuclear bomb. I’ve talked about it before and I’ll likely bring it up again. This technology just has too much potential, for better and for worse.
That’s why when people who are actually researching it have concerns, we should take notice. One such individual spoke out recently, specifically someone who worked for Google, an organization with deep pockets and a keen interest in Artificial Intelligence.
According to a report from the Associated Press, a scholar named Timnit Gebru expressed serious concerns about Google’s AI research, specifically in how their operating ethics. For a company as big and powerful as Google, that’s not a trivial comment. This is what she had to say.
Prominent artificial intelligence scholar Timnit Gebru helped improve Google’s public image as a company that elevates Black computer scientists and questions harmful uses of AI technology.
But internally, Gebru, a leader in the field of AI ethics, was not shy about voicing doubts about those commitments — until she was pushed out of the company this week in a dispute over a research paper examining the societal dangers of an emerging branch of AI.
Gebru announced on Twitter she was fired. Google told employees she resigned. More than 1,200 Google employees have signed on to an open letter calling the incident “unprecedented research censorship” and faulting the company for racism and defensiveness.
The furor over Gebru’s abrupt departure is the latest incident raising questions about whether Google has strayed so far away from its original “Don’t Be Evil” motto that the company now routinely ousts employees who dare to challenge management. The exit of Gebru, who is Black, also raised further doubts about diversity and inclusion at a company where Black women account for just 1.6% of the workforce.
And it’s exposed concerns beyond Google about whether showy efforts at ethical AI — ranging from a White House executive order this week to ethics review teams set up throughout the tech industry — are of little use when their conclusions might threaten profits or national interests.
I bolded that last sentence because I think it’s the most relevant. It’s also the greatest cause for concern. I suspect Ms. Gebru is more concerned than most because the implications are clear.
When a tool as powerful as advanced AI is developed, who gets to determine how it’s used? Who gets to program the ethical framework by which it operates? Who gets to decide how the benefits are conferred and the harms are reduced?
Moreover, how do you even go about programming an AI with the right kind of ethics?
That’s a very relative question and one we can’t avoid if we’re going to keep developing this technology. I’ve tried to answer it, but I’m hardly an expert. Ms. Gebru was definitely in a better position than me or most other people with a passing interest in this field.
Then, she gets fired and starts expressing concerns publicly. The fact that she can and Google isn’t facing much in terms of repercussions should be concerning. It may also be a sign of the larger challenges we’re facing.
Google, like many other organizations researching advanced AI, is a profit-seeking tech company. They’re not some utopian technocrats. They’re a business who is obligated to make their investors happy. Advanced AI will help them do that, but what kind of consequences will that invite?
If profit is the primary motivation of an advanced AI, then what happens when it encounters a situation where profit comes at the cost of lives? There are already human-run companies that make those decision and people die because of them. An advanced AI will only make it many times worse.
Once an artificial intelligence system is as smart as a human, it’s going to be capable in ways we don’t expect and can’t control. If it’s ethics and goals aren’t aligned with us, then what’s to stop it from wiping humanity out in the name of profit?
It’s a distressing thought. It’s probably a thought that has crossed Ms. Gebru’s mind more than once. She may know how close or far we are to that point, but the fact that this is already a conflict should worry us all.
We’ve already become so numb to the greed and excesses of big business. Tech companies may conduct themselves as this team of future-building visionaries intent on making the world a better place, but the profit motive is still there. Like it or not, profit is still a hell of a motive.
Eventually, artificial intelligence will get to a point where it will either adopt our ethics or choose to formulate its own, which may or may not align with ours. When that happens, no amount of profit may be worth the risk.
Now, we’re still a ways off from an artificial intelligence system on that level, but it’s still quite possible that there are people alive today who will grow up to see it. When that time comes, we need to be damn sure these systems have solid ethical frameworks in place.
If they don’t, we really don’t stand a chance. We’re a society that still kills each other over what we think happens when we die without seeing the irony. Even a marginally advanced AI will have no issues wiping us out if we make doing so profitable.
As proud as I am to be an American, I’ve grown increasingly frustrated with politics and discourse. I know that’s not saying much. I didn’t live through the turbulent eras of the 60s and 70s. My parents have told me it has been very bad before, but even they admit that this year is a special case of awful. They almost long for the hippie-style protests of the 60s.
I won’t get into why things have become so contentious, although most people can probably discern the most noteworthy source. I don’t have the patience or the sanity to digest that. Instead, I want to offer an observation that I’ve noticed as this election drama has played out. It has to do with both politics and religion, two incredibly divisive forces with a strong basis in absurdities.
I’ve done plenty to highlight the flaws, failures, and outright atrocities that have been committed or justified in the name of religion. I’ve also touched on some of the frustrations and annoyances that manifest in politics. Together, both can be extremely damaging to people and society alike. History has proven that on multiple occasion.
Lately, however, I get the sense that a new kind of zealotry has taken hold. It’s not entirely political or entirely religious. It just take the most destructive elements in both and channels them in a way that inspires some objectively deplorable behavior.
In essence, the same dogmatic stubbornness that often fuels religious extremists has now been applied to someone’s political leanings. By that, I don’t just mean what party they belong to or who they voted for in the last election. I’m saying they now see their political affiliation in the same light some see their religious adherence.
To some extent, this makes sense. Organized religion, in general, has been in a steep decline for decades. The rise of the internet, as well as a more educated public, has significantly undermined religion’s ability to lock in adherents for generations. However, a lack of a religion doesn’t make someone any less inclined to believe absurd, misguided, or demonstrably false concepts.
The same tribalism that often fuels religious rhetoric is becoming a larger factor in politics. I won’t go so far as to say that political ideology is replacing organized religion outright. I just think that same tribalism is becoming a more prominent factor.
It often goes like this. In the past, I often saw discussions like this play out.
Liberal: I believe the minimum wage should be raised to $15 an hour.
Conservative: I respectfully disagree. I think a minimum wage ultimately harms the working poor by limiting the number of entry level jobs.
Liberal: I don’t think the data bears that out, but can we agree to disagree?
Conservative: Of course.
That’s fairly civil. Ideally, that’s how political debates should go. It’s not an argument about whose deity is better and who’s going to Hell when they die. It’s just a simple exchange of ideas to further a discussion about real-world issues. It can get ugly at times, but it rarely ventures into the same damaging extremism that often comes with religion.
That kind of civil exchange now feels so long ago. These days, you need only look at a comments section or a thread on social media to see how outrageous the discourse has become. It tends to go more like this.
Liberal: I believe the minimum wage should be raised to $15 an hour.
Conservative: You American-hating, baby-murdering, politically correct cuck! What kind of Marxist wannabe are you? Get the fuck out of this country! You don’t belong here!
Liberal: Fuck you! You’re a racist, sexist fascist, gay-bashing hypocrite! Go back to Nazi Germany and beat your women somewhere else! You’re destroying America!
Conservative: No, you’re destroying America!
Liberal: No, you are!
Conservative: Fuck you!
Liberal: Fuck you!
I admit, this is a generalization, but it’s not that far off. Between Reddit, Twitter, Facebook, and 4chan, this kind of hateful rhetoric is fairly common. Even the street preachers who hold up signs, telling everyone that their deity wants to send them to Hell, isn’t nearly this vitriolic. Anyone who tries to be civil or inject some simple facts into the discussion is quickly drowned out by hateful dogma.
The internet and social media has acted as a catalyst, of sorts. It’s one thing to hold extreme, dogmatic political views. It’s quite another to share them in a community that constantly reinforces, reaffirms, and encourages those views. It’s become incredibly easy to exercise your own confirmation bias. If you have an opinion or want evidence for a crazy belief, chances are you can find it on some dark corner of the internet.
It’s at a point where if you try to criticize someone’s political leanings, it’s not just a point of disagreement. It’s treated as outright blasphemy. I’ve seen it on both sides, although I think those who lean right/conservative are worse offenders. Trying to convince any side that they’re wrong is akin to trying to convince a creationist or flat-Earther that they’re wrong. It just evokes more extremism.
This is not a healthy trend. Religious extremism is bad enough. Plenty of people have died because someone was convinced that a certain holy text was literally true and it was their duty to attack those who don’t agree. To religious zealots, the mere act of disagreeing and disbelieving as they do is seen as an insult, an affront, and an act of violence. That can’t be how we treat politics.
At the same time, the ugly forces of tribalism are still as strong as ever, if not more so in the age of the internet. Those influences aren’t going away anytime soon. Being part of a tribe or group is fine. We’re a very social species. It’s part of why we’re so successful. However, that same force that unites us can also inspire the ugliest kind of hate.
At its worst, it makes view anyone who disagrees with us as a non-person. They’re not sub-human, but they are someone we would rather not have in our domain. It’s not enough to disagree with them. We’d prefer they not even exist in any way that affects us.
It’s a special kind of dehumanizing and something religion has done for centuries, weaponizing the age-old us-versus-them mentality. We can only do so much to temper our tribal nature, but there comes a point where the line between differences and hatred become too blurred. We share this same planet. We also live in countries full of people who don’t agree with us.
That’s okay. We can still be friends with these people. We don’t have to hate, scold, insult, demean, or dehumanize them. That’s a conscious choice we make and, unlike religion, it requires little in terms of indoctrination. As society becomes less religious, it’s important to remember why we’re moving away from organized religion in the first place.
In the same way most religious people are decent, good people, most people of any political affiliation are the same. We’re still human at the end of the day, but I sincerely worry that the increasing ugliness of politics is making us forget that.
Certain technology advances slowly and steadily. It’s why we’re still waiting for a cure for the common cold. Other technological breakthroughs advance at such a fast rate it’s hard to keep up with. Anyone who doesn’t regularly upgrade their cell phone understands that.
Recently, a new deep fake video hit the web. It’s nothing overly nefarious. It’s actually a play on a real story from the mid-2000s. Before Robert Downey Jr. was cast as Tony Stark in the first “Iron Man” movie, Tom Cruise was in the running for that role.
He has since claimed he was never close to getting that role, but it’s still an interesting idea. For most Marvel fans, it’s hard to imagine anyone other than RDJ donning that now-iconic armor. However, there’s no denying that Tom Cruise being Iron Man would’ve changed a franchise, as well as cinematic history.
Well, thanks to deep fake technology, we don’t have to imagine anymore. We can now see for ourselves what it would look like if Tom Cruise had been cast as Iron Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. See for yourself.
Watching this, I have to say it was more than a little jarring. It’s not just that seeing someone other than RDJ as Iron Man is strange. I was genuinely impressed by how real it looked.
Yes, it did become a bit obvious at times that there was some digital trickery at work. I’ve seen enough Tom Cruise movies to know what he looks like. I could tell that the body just did not match the iconic face at times.
However, I’m still impressed at just how seamless it appeared, especially when he was in the Iron Man costume. It really did look like Cruise had embraced the role as much as RDJ had. Even though the voice had to come courtesy of a skilled voice actor, the graphics technology is definitely on pace to cross the uncanny valley sooner rather than later.
The implications here are profound. If the technology is already at this point, then it’s a given that Hollywood and propaganda pushers will start embracing it sooner. For Hollywood, who is reeling in wake of a historic pandemic, they may have more incentives to embrace it than most.
Beyond actors and actresses who get “cancelled” for their behavior, it may start as a cost cutting measure. If it costs too much to put Hugh Jackman or Tom Cruise on a movie set, why not just put a cheaper actor in their place and just deep fake the more iconic figure over it? If the technology is that good and nobody can tell the difference, it almost makes too much sense.
It may get to a point where nobody outside the studio knows whether the figure we see on screen was actually “there” to give that moment life. They may just be a digital scan mixed with digitally audio, which is also advancing.
This has even larger implications with propaganda. If the technology gets to a point where we can make any public figure say or do anything we want, no matter how deplorable, then how can we trust any media image? Would “cancel culture” even be feasible at that point? If people can just claim an embarrassing moment was a deep fake, how would we know?
It’s a distressing thought, but it’s something we’ll have to account for. We may end up having to contemplate it sooner than we thought. This technology can already show us a world in which Tom Cruise was cast as Iron Man. What other worlds will it reveal?
When you write a lot about sex robots and sex dolls, like I do, you tend to attract attention. It’s not always the fun kind of attention, but it’s still attention and I welcome it. I’ve been discussing this topic, and writing sexy short stories about it, long enough to make clear that my interest is serious. It really pays off when you connect with others who are equally serious.
That happened recently when some people from an actual sex doll brothel in Europe saw some of my articles. One of their representatives actually reached out to me and we organized a Skype call. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, but I was genuinely curious. It’s one thing to write about sex dolls and sex robots. It’s quite another to get actual insight from someone working in that field.
I’m grateful for the opportunity because the discussion we had was incredibly revealing. For the record, and in the interest of full disclosure, the sex doll company in question is called Naughty Harbor. Before you look them up, please note that their website has plenty of NSFW content. They work with sex dolls. That should be a given.
They currently operate out of the Czech Republic. They have facilities for both the manufacturing of sex dolls and for operating a small sex doll brothel. They haven’t been in business for very long, but they have been on the front line of this emerging industry.
The individual I spoke to, whose name I won’t disclose out of respect for his privacy, works closely with the founder and the owner of Naughty Harbor. He shared a great deal of information on the basics of the industry, the people who use it, the challenges of operating in 2020, and the emerging trends. Among the many issues that came up, here are some key highlights.
Issue #1: The Taboos And Stigma Of Sex Dolls Still Very Strong
This was probably the largest and most pressing challenge for Naughty Harbor and companies like it. Like most things related to sex, there are a host of taboos about sex dolls. From the people to use them to the people who buy them to the people who develop genuine connections with them, the stigma surrounding them is still incredibly strong.
At the same time, the demand for companionship and sexual experience is also strong. That’s never going away, no matter how much taboo or stigma is heaped upon it. Just ask the Catholic Church. That’s what drives the sex doll industry. With sex doll brothels now starting to emerge, the taboo is starting to wane to some degree.
The individual from Naughty Harbor explained how big a deal privacy was for customers. Some wanted absolutely no face-time with anyone. They wanted what amounted to a no-contact experience. They just call ahead of time, have someone set up a room with a sex doll, and have all the transactions occur behind a computer screen with complete anonymity.
It’s not unlike the type of no-contact deliveries that have become so common during the ongoing pandemic. It’s not like walking into a legal brothel, standing in front of a bunch of sex workers, and doing business out in the open. Even in places with liberal sex work laws, like Europe, the desire for privacy is still critical.
That’s likely to remain the same as more sex doll brothels open up. However, this is also where our discussion brought up other key insights.
Issue #2: The Pandemic’s Effect On The Industry
Like any industry, the ongoing that same pandemic I mentioned earlier is affecting the sex doll industry. The representative said outright that there has been a noticeable uptick in interest and sales. That makes sense too. People who have been stuck at home for weeks on end are bound to get lonely. Even if you live in a place with legal sex work, a pandemic is kind of a mood killer.
These sex dolls are suddenly seen as both a viable option and one that’s safer. You can clean a sex doll. In fact, Naughty Harbor reported that they’ve developed a very diligent process for sanitizing their sex dolls. It’s at a point where these sex dolls, including the ones being used at the brothel, are cleaner than your hands are this very instant.
For those who’ve become very conscious of germs and disease, as most of us have been under the pandemic, this is key. It’s an element of control and assurance you can’t get with a flesh and blood sex worker. It’s not even something you can get with a typical partner. There’s value in that and it outweighs any stigma or taboo.
While I wasn’t privy to exact numbers, Naughty Harbor did indicate that business has been strong for sex doll brothels during the pandemic. They’re expected to remain strong, even after the pandemic passes. If anything, it has shown people that this industry can provide a legitimate sexual outlet and that can be very beneficial for people.
Issue #3: Research And Benefits
Another interesting issue that came up was the ongoing research surrounding the use of sex dolls. Naughty Harbor is playing an active role in that effort. According to the representative, both manufacturers and sex doll brothel owners are coordinating with researchers who are interested in this field.
Make no mistake. The interest is growing and not just because of the pandemic.
Naughty Harbor believes that it can. Researchers are interested in just how much or how little help that a sex doll can provide. Even though they’re not alive, the mere facsimilia of human companionship is certain to have a tangible impact on someone’s psyche. The nature and extent of that impact remains unknown, but will be a key point of interest.
Between social isolation due to pandemics and the emerging concerns regarding the incel phenomenon, sex dolls could provide key points of interest. We’ll need that perspective, especially as sex dolls become more lifelike and eventually become sex robots.
Issue #4: They’re Getting More Lifelike
In addition to the social impact, we also talked quite a bit about the technology. The sex dolls of Naughty Harbor are quite lifelike, but you’d never mistake them for an actual person from afar. They’re still getting incredibly close, though. They’re just on the edge of that uncanny valley in which most sex dolls and sex robots operate at the moment.
The fact they still look artificial may be part of what fuels the taboo, but the technology is changing rapidly. The individual I spoke to says it’s getting both better and faster. Companies like Naughty Harbor are already using technology like 3D printing to both build and repair sex dolls. They’re also using better silicone blends that better mimic the feel of real human flesh.
They’re getting to a point where they can look like real people. They’re also at a point where they can be made to look exceedingly unreal for those with specific fantasies. That was something Naughty Harbor said is a growing trend. Those who seek the use of sex dolls don’t just want sex. They want an experience and they’re willing to pay for it.
Accommodating those fantasies is currently a niche market, but one that’s getting easier as the manufacturing processes are improving. It’s getting to a point where the only issue is scale, which is more a logistics challenge than a technical challenge.
Issue #5: They’re Getting Cheaper
Five years ago, if you wanted to buy a well-made sex doll, chance are you’d have to spend upwards of $5,000 to $7,000. There are used cars that cost less than that. That kind of cost is also a major barrier for those seeking an experience with a sex doll. It’s also helped keep the industry shrouded in taboo.
Today, that cost is not nearly as big a barrier as it once was. While many high-end sex dolls still cost thousands, many quality models now can be bought for less than $3,000. It’s less the cost of a used car and more the cost of a large appliance, like a refrigerator or washing machine. The models offered by Naughty Harbor range between $3,000 and $1,800.
That’s still not cheap, but it’s trending in a cheaper direction. In our conversation, we both agreed that once the price drops below $1,000, then the market will start to expand. I think there’s a psychological component to seeing something that costs less than four figures that makes it seem less daunting as a purchase. If you’re lonely, that may be a price you’re more willing to pay.
Like I said, the main issue now is scale. It’s hard to make a quality sex doll and charge a low price for it. Manufacturing is still quite labor intensive, especially for those who want to customize their dolls. That process will need refinement, but once that happens, it could become as easy and routine as ordering a pizza.
Issue #6: They’re Being Customized In Unexpected Ways
Another issue that came up, which I actually brought up, was the kind of customization that people are asking for. Naughty Harbor does offer customization options for their sex dolls, as most other companies doo. However, the customization requests haven’t been too extreme.
One common request is for dolls that look like ex-lovers. That is apparently more popular than those who want sex dolls resembling their favorite anime characters, which is a niche field in and of itself. That surprised me, but it probably shouldn’t. I can understand someone missing the physical intimacy once provided by an ex-lover, even if the relationship didn’t work.
It helps affirm that there’s a real emotional component to those who use sex dolls. Again, it’s not just about the sex or the sweet release that comes with it. There’s a deeper connection at play and it’s different than the release someone gets with a typical sex toy.
This led us to discuss whether anyone has requested a sex doll resembling a celebrity. At the moment, Naughty Harbor says that has not been a very common request, but they expect that to change. It’s only a matter of time before someone requests a sex doll that looks exactly like a popular Marvel, Disney, or DC Comics character.
If there’s money to be made, the industry will find a way. However, that will send it into some legally contested territory. While American sex doll manufacturers cannot make dolls out of real people, other countries don’t have those same restrictions. According to Naughty Harbor, the Czech Republic has no such laws on the books. I doubt that’ll remain true for long.
That brought us to the last issue that is sure to become prominent at some point.
Issue #7: The Legal Issues Are Just Beginning
At the moment, the laws in both Europe and the Americas designate sex dolls as sex toys. They’re basically classified as a far more elaborate version of a vibrator. For now, given their current place in the uncanny valley, that makes sense. The question is what happens when sex dolls become both more lifelike and more accessible to the general public.
Can you classify a sex doll brothel the same way you would a traditional brothel?
Can you make the act of essentially renting a sex toy illegal?
How do you even classify and regulate a service like producing sex dolls?
Those questions cannot go unanswered because there have already been some issues. One of the biggest involves the sale of sex dolls that resemble children. That’s an issue that Naughty Harbor acknowledged is a growing concern. At the moment, those kinds of sex dolls are illegal to make in many parts of the world, but there is an emerging black market for them, mostly out of Asia.
Like with any black market, there will be nefarious customers seeking nefarious providers for an illicit service. Naughty Harbor did say they work with the authorities on addressing this issue. At the same time, they too are trying to figure out the best way to deal with it. Like with many issues involving the sex industry, there’s always a chance that one particular effort could do more harm than good.
It’s a serious issue, but one that is making clear that sex dolls are here to stay. There is a demand for them and that’s not going away anytime soon. The law is very behind the curve right now. Naughty Harbor and I both agreed on that. At the same time, it may also be what’s driving the industry.
As concerns about sex work and human trafficking remain highly contentious, sex dolls might emerge as both a recourse and a complication. If the demand for human prostitution goes down while the demand for sex doll brothels goes up, then is that something the public and the politicians they vote for will accept?
Only time will tell. Naughty Harbor is just one of many companies in this emerging field. They’ll certainly have a part to play, especially as the industry matures and more research is conducted. Once it gets to a certain point, lawyers will get involved. That’s sure to complicate the industry, but after talking to Naughty Harbor, I’m fairly certain it cannot be stopped.
Once again, I’d like to thank Naughty Harbor for taking the time to speak with me about this issue. I hope to have more like them in the future. The sex doll industry is growing and evolving alongside other emerging technologies. It’s going to happen faster than most of us expect. Are we ready for it? That remains to be seen. I have my doubts, but I’ll certainly be keeping an eye on this issue. A pandemic may have tempered our collective libidos, but our desires will eventually return. Like it or not, sex dolls may be a larger part of the sexual landscape from here on out.
The following is a video for my YouTube channel, Jack’s World. You may recognize the title from an article I wrote years ago in the before times when pandemics were still the subject of bad sci-fi movies. I miss those times too.
The news surrounding Neuralink is still of great interest to me. I still think it’s one of the most important technological advancements of the century. This video simply offers another general overview of why this technology is so important. Enjoy!
Technology has and will continue to affect our sex life, our love life, our social life, and everything in between. It’s unavoidable. Whatever new technology we create will eventually affect or be applied to our sex life. Whether intentional or unintentional, it’ll find a way. Human beings are just too creative, passionate, and horny.
Decades ago, shows like “Star Trek” and movies like “Demolition Man” imagined technology like smartphones and tablets. At the time, they didn’t seem like huge leaps, but they still seemed futuristic. They also offered some insight into how technology might find its way into our lives. It may have been innocuous to the story, but it was downright prophetic in envisioning the real-world implications.
This brings me to an upcoming game called “Cyberpunk 2077.” In a year where so many things that we love are getting delayed or cancelled, this had video game fans of all types giddy with excitement. It’s already one of the most anticipated games of the year and I count myself among those who have already made plans to play it for hours on end.
This is no standard Mario game. “Cyberpunk 2077” is “Grand Theft Auto” meets “Skyrim,” with a dash of Keanu Reeves for added awesome. It’s a mature journey into a futuristic world full of cyborgs, outlaws, and bloody brawls. If you can’t find something to enjoy in that, then you’re just being difficult.
However, the appeal of game isn’t the primary issue I want to highlight. Recently, some new details emerged that could offer the kind of futuristic insight that even “Star Trek” was too afraid to address. Specifically, the game revealed an option to customize the genitals of your character. An article in Kotaku went into detail.
Players can select a gender and customize their character; customization can include depictions of breasts, buttocks, and genitalia, as well as various sizes and combinations of genitals. Players can encounter events where they have the option to engage in sexual activities with other main characters or prostitutes — these brief sex scenes (from a first-person perspective) depict partially nude characters moaning suggestively while moving through various positions.
Now, this feature isn’t exactly new. Other games have played with similar options, such as “Saints Row.” However, “Cyberpunk 2077” promises to take this option even further.
That makes sense in the context of the game. It’s a futuristic world in which the line between technology and our bodies is essentially gone. You can augment limps, organs, and various other features. It makes sense that this extends to our genitals. Conceivably, it means men can have vaginas, women can have penises, and those who prefer a more ambiguous kind of sexuality can mix and match.
The possibilities are vast, as well as sexy. To some, it’ll be disturbing. I’m sure the Rick Santorums and Jack Thompsons of the world won’t sleep well. At the same time, it provides some insight into the future of our bodies, our sex lives, and our love lives.
While the technology in “Cyberpunk 2077” is a long way off, some parts of it are already starting to emerge. From Neuralink to lab grown organs, the principle of creating new body parts and augmenting the ones we have isn’t new. It’s not some magical concept that requires that we break the laws of physics. In theory, this sort of thing is possible. It’s just a matter of time, investment, and development.
What games like “Cyberpunk 2077” promise is the ability to explore how society reacts to having the ability to change, enhance, or adjust their bodies at will. If you can have one set of genitals one day and another by the end of the week, what does that do for people? How does it affect the way they conduct themselves? How does it impact our notions of gender?
I find that kind of insight powerful because, unlike TV shows or movies, video games are more engaging. People play an active role in both the plot of the story and how the characters conduct themselves. In games like “Cyberpunk 2077” when there are so many options for customization, the possibilities are even greater.
One day, people in the real world will be able to reconfigure and customize their genitals just like players can in “Cyberpunk 2077.” It’s hard to know what kind of impact that’ll have on the world, but “Cyberpunk 2077” should give us a tantalizing glimpse.