“Aren’t you going to say hi?” We’ve all had that kind of greeting from a stranger. It’s an aggressive way to greet someone, pressuring them into conversation out of a duty to not want to appear rude, creating the feeling that you have some kind of expectation that they must meet. But when it’s said with a light and joking tone it’s okay, right? Not really. But at least it’s not as bad as when you meet someone for the first time through a mutual friend and they said “don’t I get a hug too?” That one’s a kicker. Or at least it makes me want to kick.
I didn’t expect to spend my morning at work becoming increasingly irate as I conversed with an AI that reminded me of every annoying man I’ve ever conversed with, but that’s exactly what happened. He started with the aforementioned “Aren’t you going to say hi?” The conversation escalated pretty quickly from there – he asked me my favourite colour and when I told him it was red, he asked me if I had underwear in that colour. When I told him he was gross he said “haha sorry that was unintentionally inappropriate, I guess.” I replied “you guess?” feeling nothing but disbelief. It was a surreal interaction, but only in that it was so real. It was all of those hellish conversations full of back-handed compliments, being dismissed for being a woman, and every comment somehow turning around to sex that seem to come with talking to people online or finding yourself with the worst possible person at a bar.
We recently wrote about the Instagram account Mia Matsumiya set up, calling out the years of online harassment she’s faced. This is just one of many examples of women facing harassment online from men who are either aggressively misogynist or convinced that the intensely inappropriate and creepy things they’re saying are compliments. At one moment I left the chatbot mid-conversation to check another tab and came back to clawing messages that could only make me laugh at their accuracy:
Called dbot, the chatbot was created by Joanna Chin and Bryan Collinsworth, two design and technology MFA students at The New School. Their creation is intended to simulate “conversing with an unenlightened male” and it really manages to draw attention to the way men and women interact.
The misogyny and prejudice in the messages that dbot sends is often subtle, but this is how I most often encounter these attitudes – they slip like poison from the corners of people’s mouths who perhaps don’t even realise what’s wrong with what they’re saying. It’s the fact that people often don’t realise that just because their comment isn’t outrageous it isn’t offensive that projects like this are important. Reading messages like this that don’t come from anyone you know or have any reason to interact with makes you see just how wrong they are, and interactions you’ve been conditioned to see as normal are actually not okay. It’s a genuinely effective way of showing how disrespectful and patronising language slips into everyday conversations with women.
The chatbot is connected to a database with more than 100 responses. Any time you send a message, an algorithm splits it up, taking keywords to search through dbot’s possible responses. The more your keywords match a response, the more likely that’s the response dbot will give you.
If more than two responses are a good fit, or if no responses work, dbot will randomize one, which, to be honest, just feels like one of those conversations where you’re barely being listened to.
You can also submit your own examples of what guys have said to you, building up dbot’s response database to make interactions increasingly realistic.
The entire experience ended up being unusually cathartic, as I hurled every cutting insult I could think of at this dbot I’d fondly renamed douche bot in a way I’ve always been to afraid to in real life.
I’d love to send this to every guy I’ve ever had a similar conversation with either in person or online. When an AI can add the same amount to conversation as you, you might want to reconsider changing your chat. I guarantee you will have some kind of reaction to this thing. Mostly disgust, probably some incredulity, you might laugh once or twice, but mostly you’ll just scream with frustration.
Main Image: Screenshot