You Are Already Having Sex With Robots

Henry the sex robot is the “mind” of a “woman” trapped in the “body” of a “man.” When you talk to Henry, you’re really talking to the artificial intelligence database Realbotix developed for its female predecessor, Harmony. To masculinize Henry, Realbotix founder and CEO Matt McMullen and five other “robot heads” sit with Henry doing R&D, which amounts to chatting Henry up. “Henry, how was your day?” McMullen asks. “Just fine, baby,” Henry says. “But when are you going to take me out to dinner?” The humans all look at each other. “That didn’t sound quite right,” McMullen says, and the others agree. The language database they’re developing for Henry shouldn’t include soliciting nights out on the town. “Sometimes Henry …

How ’30-50 Feral Hogs’ Became the New ‘Thoughts and Prayers’

Thirty to 50 unkillable feral hogs may or may not be terrorizing one Arkansas man's backyard, but they've definitely infiltrated Twitter. They've invaded the lyrics of songs from "Do Re Mi" to "Milkshake." They've reminded people of their dating histories and of bizarre medieval paintings. They've inspired strange hypothetical chat rooms and porcine updates to classic pieces of writing. (My favorite: "For sale/30-50 feral hogs/Never shot.") The feral hogs, all 30 to 50 of them, are just the kind of meme Twitterati are wont to latch onto—one so absurd that it's hilarious, and so hilarious that you'll almost forget it's macabre as hell. Emma Grey Ellis Stop Meme-ing Taylor Swift Emma Grey Ellis The Meaning Behind the #UnwantedIvanka Meme Adam …

While You Were Offline: Mitch McConnell Got a New Nickname

Let's begin with a recap of the week's big news. President Trump called Baltimore "rat infested." The US withdrew from a nuclear treaty signed during the Cold War. Last month was the hottest month on record, and it's all humanity's fault. Oh, and there are new threats of an escalating trade war with China. What else were people talking about online last week? Find out below. 'Moscow Mitch' What happened: In the memetic war of 2019, shots have been fired against Senate leader Mitch McConnell. And he owes it all to Russia. What really happened: If the Trump era has taught anyone anything about the world, it’s that nicknames are what change minds. Remember "Low Energy Jeb" and "Crooked Hillary"? …

How White Nationalists Have Co-Opted Fan Fiction

During a recent summer stroll near an Ivy League campus, I happened on an SUV with a decal on its rear window that read “The University of Rhodesia.” The University of Rhodesia no longer exists, but it was located in Rhodesia, a self-declared state in southern Africa from 1965 to 1979 (the area now known as Zimbabwe). An independent state successor to the British colony of Southern Rhodesia, it was named after the British imperialist Cecil Rhodes. In recent years, Rhodesian iconography has gained popularity among young men with white nationalist leanings. Infatuation with Rhodesia first received media attention after it was discovered that Dylann Roof—the white supremacist who killed 9 black churchgoers in 2015—had a personal website called “Last …

Drag Queen vs. David Duke: Whose Tweets Are More ‘Toxic’?

Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have been making significant investments in the development of artificial intelligence to moderate content and automate the removal of harmful posts. These decision­making technologies typically rely on machine-learning techniques and are specific to types of content, such as images, videos, sounds, and written text. Some of these AI systems, developed to measure the "toxicity" of text-based content, make use of natural language processing and sentiment assessment to detect harmful text. While these technologies may appear to represent a turning point in the debate around hate speech on the internet, recent research has shown that they are still far from being able to distinguish context or intent. If such AI tools are entrusted …

Reddits Manosphere and the Challenge of Quantifying Hate

Away from the main thoroughfares of r/Showerthoughts and r/mildlyinteresting, far from the light of r/aww, there is Reddit’s “manosphere.” It’s a confederacy of men’s rights subreddits, so named because it’s a place where women are unwelcome. Manosphere members might think of themselves as “involuntarily celibate,” like the man who drove a van into Toronto pedestrians last year, or something more empowered and oblique, like “men going their own way.” In either mode, they are united by their belief that modern men aren’t getting their due, and the usurpers, in their eyes, are women. Though the communities themselves tend to be relatively small—even big ones have only about 100,000 members—their impact is felt across the web. They incubate predator trolls, they …

While You Were Offline: Trump Went Into North Korea

To begin with, a programming note: While you're reading this in its usual time slot, it was compiled before the July Fourth holiday, so—unfortunately—there's not a collection of tweets about President Trump's reportedly expensive Independence Day celebration. Apologies for that. Nonetheless, there's still a lot to catch up on. Last week was one that uncovered a secret Facebook group where immigration officials joke about migrant deaths, even as more and more people die in US custody and conditions at border facilities turn out to be worse than believed. It was also the week where the Trump administration let go of its quest to have a question about citizenship on the 2020 US census, and everyone continued to fall in love …

In Defense of Mayonnaise

Mayonnaise is the internet’s favorite condiment villain. The egg, oil, and vinegar emulsion is a symbol not only for blandness, but for whiteness and all its attendant cultural appropriation and entitlement. It symbolizes the whitewashing of culture. It looks like something extruded from a teenage pimple or a long festering wound. Plus, haters love to point out, it’s terrible for you. It’s all fat! And salt! And because of the eggs, it's dangerous! If you leave a potato salad made with it out too long at your BBQ, everyone could get salmonella and then you're literally a murderer. Do you really love mayonnaise enough to murder a Fourth of July party for it? Yes, I do. And it's worse than …

5 Queer People on How They Found Their Chosen Families

It's a fairly common tale in the LGBTQ+ community: Queer people move away from home and build new families of their own. They go to cities, find friends and partners, and form a network. Since many queer individuals are rejected (or just simply tolerated) by their families of origin, this new support network is a place where they can shine and be their authentic selves. Anyone who has ever seen an episode of Pose knows this. Yet, with the spread of social media, messages boards, and apps, the ways in which LGBTQ+ folks find each other has changed dramatically. Some still find their chosen family IRL, but others do it by popping up in someone's DMs. To mark the conclusion …

Spiff Up Your Real-World Skills With Old-Timey YouTube

Early humans probably didn't survive by starting fires the cartoon way, scrubbing a stick between their palms until snap, crackle, poof! It's not that the technique doesn't work; it's just really slow and can leave you with enormous, puffy blisters across your palms. To demonstrate, John Plant, the YouTuber behind the channel Primitive Technologies, flashes his torn-up mitts for the camera, scratching at the yellow sores on his already dirty and calloused hands. Then he sits on the ground, shoeless and shirtless, and hits a rock with another rock until he bores a hole through the middle. He puts a straight stick snapped from a nearby tree through the hole and twists tree bark into twine, which he wraps around …

Why You Can’t Look Away From #CursedImages

A baby grinning at a meat grinder as pulverized flesh extrudes into a bowl. A slice of pizza in a pot of boiling water. A toilet, barely visible, installed inside the mouth of a cave. A teddy bear with human teeth. All of these images, in the eyes of the internet, are cursed. The found photos are unaccountably horrifying, hilarious, and baffling all at once, examples of one of the web’s most enduring meme forms, a bit of internet culture at its most wonderfully, deliberately senseless. They are the perfect online attention trap: Once your eyes land on a cursed image, it’s difficult to look away. And when you do, it’s hard not to scroll on for more. The genre …

Depth of Field: The Spooky Symmetry of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump

Symmetry disquiets. So often people, objects, or circumstances align too perfectly, too terrifyingly for our comfort. Order can feel unsettling and foreign when chaos is the sole unchanging factor. This week, nothing brought that notion to light more starkly than the image of Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner standing, uniformly framed, in a window at Buckingham Palace. Captured by Samir Hussein, the inanimate, spooky tone of the photograph evokes an immediate emotional reaction. There's a strange emptiness to it all, and yet the picture is rich in metaphorical dimension. Its composition carries a dark tenor, reflective of present and lurking evils. What is it trying to tell us? Starting Monday, President Trump, along with his family, made a state visit …

Does Twitter Even Know How to Tweet?

Franz Reichelt, the Flying Taylor, leapt from the Eiffel Tower on February 4, 1912, expecting his homemade parachute to do its job. Nobody actually thought he would jump. To secure deck access, Reichelt had assured Parisian police that he would be sending a dummy over the edge. When the chute failed to fill, it was very much a real person who hit the ground. The French press immediately seized upon Reichelt as a morality tale—the foolish Icarian inventor who disregarded warnings and became the broken embodiment of the cost of moving too fast. The modern-day Reichelt is not a man, but a corporation: Twitter. The social media platform is, as everyone has said innumerable times, deeply flawed, yet it blithely …

Optimization Smackdown: Hustle Porn vs. Zen Porn

This story is part of a series on how we make time—from productivity hacks and long walks to altering the function of our own circadian clocks. Melody Wilding’s hair had started falling out. Her heart fluttered wildly in her chest even in moments of calm, and on the weekends she felt too drained to get out of bed. “I was 20 years old,” she says, “but I felt 70.” The problem wasn’t depression or disease or anything pharmaceutically fixable. It was burnout: a totalizing exhaustion created by Wildling’s self-described “typical type A, overachiever personality” and its hyperdisciplined fixation on productivity. Her mind told her to do more, but her body had had enough. The quest for self-optimization has long consumed …

On Pooping in the DarkNo Lights, No Phones, No Distractions

This story is part of a series on how we make time—from productivity hacks and long walks to altering the function of our own circadian clocks. Pooping today is a plugged-in, plugged-up project. At least three-quarters of Americans, including 96 percent of members of Gen Z, shit with their smartphones. Straining away, they text, date, and Google “hemorrhoids” at three times the pre-iPhone rate. I have a friend who spends his longer movements calling his mother. Amazon sells hundreds of toilet paper holders with phone shelves. Among the top rated is an aluminum rack touting its “versatile convenience”: “the large, wide design not only holds your cell phone, it can be used as a rest for baby diapers, girl used …

Inside the Hybrid Digital-Analog Lives of Children

Kids today are voracious technology consumers for sure, but they are also active participants—creators, collaborators, and even influencers. So parents have much more to wrestle with than some broad-brush notion of “screen time.” Whatever you think of Fortnite, when children play it they are working together as a team (that’s good!), in a tech-mediated environment (is that bad?); and they’re not just playing a videogame, they’re socializing—factor that into your screen-time calculus. The youngs are also creating their own content, from unboxing toy reviews and “watch me play Minecraft” videos to DIY slime posts on Instagram, some of them attracting massive audiences and making serious money. They have agency and aspirations online, which makes them vulnerable to the same forces …