First came digital art, followed by memes, newspaper columns, forged paintings and unsolicited dick pics. Just when we thought the innovations in non-fungible tokens (NFTs) had come full circle, a new element was factored in as the next step in digital content ownership: AI-infused NFTs. More specifically, AI-infused erotic NFTs. Enter Aiko, an AI-powered “sexy waifu” who lives on the Solana blockchain—here to adapt, learn and evolve with your taste in explicit content.
Borrowing its semi-realistic aesthetic from the popular Japanese animation style, Aiko is an interactive NFT art collectible for adults. Scheduled for pre-sale in November 2021, the Aiko Project will launch in two distinct stages, starting with an NFT collection dubbed ‘I’M AIKO’.
The process goes something like this. At first, Aiko—an avatar simulating the classic ‘waifu’ image in anime with a minuscule waist and button-bursting bust, spread eagle on the floor—will be a plain 2D character without any customisation. Once you place your bid and get the winning match on Solana marketplaces like Solanart, DigitalEyes and Solsea, you get to generate an NFT where you’ll receive a mix of 10,000 randomly generated Aikos. The possibilities at this stage are endless—with customisable options for twelve traits including outfits, hairstyles, tattoos, piercings, skin tones, body parts, moods and more.
Available in three versions, namely ‘Unique’, ‘Legendary’ and ‘Epic’, investors will be able to mint as many Aikos as they want on Aiko Builder, where the avatar will be generated over layers to create the erotic art. These minted layers will then be stored on the Aiko Master app—which is where things begin to heat up.
Once an Aiko is minted, the minter becomes an ‘Aiko Master’. Backed with the aim of “growing together, eliminating their [a holder’s] fear of loneliness and changing their lives to be more positive and energetic,” the Aiko Master app helps bring Aikos to life, allowing investors to interact with their avatars via text chat, voice and camera. As a Master interacts with their Aiko, she (an Aiko’s preferred pronoun) evolves and learns from their tastes while adapting and responding to their most intimate needs. She will also use the nature of the text and the emojis you use to draw a visual picture of you and build responses accordingly. In a nutshell, Aiko Master’s primary objective is to build a human-like connection with you by mirroring your personality—thereby bringing your creations to life.
“I’m not just a sexy NFT,” its website conveniently sums up, adding how an Aiko’s neuronal network is trained by hundreds of Reddit posts—a decent source for explicit content if you ask me—coupled with erotic novels, and yes, loads of NSFW material from other platforms. The app’s machine learning is also pretty straightforward. All you have to do is download Aiko Master (set to roll out on both Android and iOS) and bestow a name for your Aiko and yourself before choosing the kind of relationship that you wish to have on the app—with available options ranging between a friend, a motivational guide or a romantic partner.
“I can be your friend, your lover or whatever you want me to be”
Once your Aiko starts interacting with you based on your relationship preferences, she’ll ask a set of questions to get to know you better and analyse what you seek to “adjust herself” accordingly. An Aiko as a friend will “stand by you no matter the situation, sharing your wins and be with you at your lows.” She will be the person who you can confide in while basing her responses according to what she has learned from you to suggest solutions to a problem. According to the app’s Wiki page, an Aiko as a friend “will keep the conversation going” no matter what the subject. Sounds too good to be true, right?
An Aiko as a motivational guide, on the other hand, promises to provide you with reassurances on the decisions you need to take. “If any other person knew you best other than yourself, it would be the Aiko Master app,” the Wiki reads. With a simple tap, you could reach out to the avatar asking for advice on the next dilemma you’re faced with. Based on the conversation you have had with her, she will then follow it up with a series of questions to help you understand the decision you make. “In a way, she acts as a counselor and therapist in your life journey,” the Wiki continues.
Now comes Aiko as a romantic partner. She will predictively message you on an intimate level, in a way romantic partners typically respond and mirror your well-being. “It does so with the intention of keeping the user happy, both emotionally and mentally,” as the Wiki puts it. Then comes the entire erotic aspect of the relationship. An Aiko as a romantic partner will be eager to discuss her master’s deepest fears and desires—basically functioning as a 2D outlet for pent up sexual frustration. Plus, “the charming voice of Aiko and the caring feel will make you more and more invested in her” all to a point where she would be “tough to ignore.” And this is exactly where a plethora of criticisms come in.
Apart from Aiko Builder and the Aiko Master app, the company behind the innovation also seeks to build something called the ‘Aiko Marketplace’—an entire ecosystem for erotic NFTs where they can be traded without any restriction or judgment. Here, investors will receive 30 per cent rewards for every fee collected by the marketplace—meaning passive income for life as long as you own an Aiko.
Although erotic NFTs are nothing new, with NaftyArt and XXXNifty already capitalising on the upcoming market, an innovation like Aiko has the possibility of redefining the future of such NFTs. Leveraging AI, the ‘companion model’ essentially opens up avenues to bring digital creations into life while collecting NFTs that hold value.
However, according to sexual misbehaviour expert James Foley, issues arise when digital rabbit holes like porn or AI companions keep people from fulfilling everyday responsibilities because they’re so involved, in this case literally invested, in it. The fact that Aiko’s charming voice and caring feel make her “tough to ignore” perpetuates feelings of isolation in users while diminishing the quality of their real-life experiences.
In an interview with Rolling Stone, Foley explained how an Aiko feeds into a person’s view that the ideal woman can be “accessed, used and put away,” often leading to distorted thinking. “A lot of the incel movement is about isolation and social rejection,” he said. While sex can be a part of that, he believes that the bigger issue at hand is the idea of an echo chamber—where investors (or Aiko Masters) are blasted with claims like the app only caters to those who “don’t want to feel lonely” and need to “fill in the void they have in their lives.”
“It’s not the responsibility of a real-life partner to serve as a reflection,” Foley mentioned. “You learn to adjust to your partner. Your partner doesn’t just conform to whatever your tastes are.” In short, in the quest to commercialise isolation, Aiko might just be making the matter worse instead. “That might be the origin of some bad behaviour,” Foley said, wondering if the team even consulted women or sex therapists before developing the avatar.
At a time where adult content creators are struggling to find space in mainstream NFT marketplaces, let alone any platform at all, Aiko undoubtedly has the potential to change it all. For the better or the worse? Only time will tell. Until then, one thing is for sure: NFTs are only limited by our imagination.
Earlier this year, we had the Bernie Sanders mitten meme succumbing to the internet’s Rule 34, also known as ‘if it exists, there is porn of it’. The video featured adult performer Elle Hell embodying the senator, later ridding herself of the iconic manilla and everything vanilla on-camera. Forced to embrace a digital presence in recent times, these entertainers are always on the lookout for fresh inspiration and lately, they seem to be flocking to TikTok—in all its glory with viral trends like ‘Silhouette’ and ‘Buss It’.
With an entire genre, ‘TikTok-style’ to their credit on Pornhub, these performers are tapping into popular trends and challenges to ensure their short-handed success. Gwen, a 25-year-old sex worker from Toronto admits to jumping on the TikTok trend of personifying popular restaurant chains. In an interview with Wired, she recalls spotting an opportunity within the trend. “A lot of other creators had done Goth IHOP or Femboy Hooters content—but I wanted to take on milf Denny’s,” she added.
In her ‘TikTok-style’ video, Gwen role-plays a waitress working at Denny’s who seduces a customer into the break room. The video, a trailer for which was uploaded to Pornhub, was one of Gwen’s best-sellers in 2020. “The response was amazing,” she told Wired.
Apart from using TikTok as a source of inspiration, these entertainers often use the app for filming and editing their videos. Transitional edits are made easier on the app, facilitating seamless wardrobe changes for these users, in turn escalating their creative output. A report by xHamster Live tracks a broader shift in tastes favouring ‘homemade’ porn videos with younger millennials and gen Zers purchasing porn at a higher rate than Boomers—particularly if the video is created entirely by the stars themselves.
Such videos, even if not made using TikTok’s superior editing tools, often adopt similar formats and visual languages popularised by the platform. “This is done in order to lend popularity or relevance,” and “borrow the fresh feel of TikTok’s aesthetics,” said Katrin Tiidenberg, co-author of Sex and Social Media to Wired.
Some of these TikTok-style videos are even posted to the platform. While most of them get flagged and taken down for their violation of TikTok’s community guidelines, a number of them manage to slip past the algorithm. However, bear in mind that these videos don’t necessarily have to contain explicit content to help performers drive traffic to other platforms like their OnlyFans account.
Gwen admits to having made a video on TikTok, screen recorded it and uploaded it straight to her OnlyFans without ever posting it to TikTok. The app further lets users download unpublished videos without its iconic watermark. The free social media platform is hence used as a marketing tool—to aid crossposting and drive traffic to paid work on other platforms such as OnlyFans and Pornhub.
Could you whiff out the irony with that statement though? Let me rephrase it for you: a platform, seeking to banish explicit content, with over 169 million views on the #cancelporn movement created by its own users, is being used to create and promote the same content.
‘Cancel porn’ must have popped up on your For You page in the past few months, after creators from all walks of life shared their stories of porn addictions, throwing ‘porn funerals’ in their wake. The message backing this movement deems porn as ‘inherently evil’—normalising rape, pedophilia, misogyny and incest. Yet, despite the efforts of the movement, coupled with TikTok’s own community guidelines against ‘nudity, pornography and sexually explicit content’, the platform currently seems to be conquering everyone’s heart—including the porn industry’s.
Which side is right, and which is wrong? Like most things in life, the answer to this argument is neither black nor white. Some of the content produced by sex workers using the app’s features has absolutely nothing wrong about it. It all boils down to when capitalising on TikTok’s popularity becomes problematic. For example, when compilations sexualising users—often made with clips downloaded without the creator’s consent—surface on platforms like Pornhub.
So, what can be done? What is the permanent solution for a platform seeking to ban explicit content? While apps like SWYP, known as the ‘lovechild of TikTok and YouPorn’, aim to redirect this niche audience to a space dedicated to TikTok-style porn viewing, it begs the question: is there a fool-proof way for social media platforms to ensure user compliance with an audience increasingly dependent on technology for their living? Although a positive answer would prove to be the miracle that all social media giants have been hoping for, so far, even the strongest algorithms combined with the savviest human moderators have not been able to crack it.