Introducing the porn industry
The next time you pay online, consider sending some thankful thoughts to the pornography pioneers. If I were to acknowledge all the technological innovations pushed by porn, I could easily fill these pages. This is more an understatement than it is an exaggeration. Luckily, I will spare you of this. The erotic sphere has been the major pusher of obvious technological innovations like sexual avatars, live video chats, pop-up ads and interactive motion-controlled porn. However, the majority of innovations pushed by the pornographic sphere are for many of us less clear. There are so many innovations enabled by the demand for sexual content. Some of the examples are 3D video, Virtual Reality, tracking devices, library card cataloging system, cable TV, digital camera, digital rights management, Snapchat, 3G and faster internet.
It really isn’t that surprising, considering how big of an industry porn actually is. 12% of all Internet content is porn. The net worth (assets minus liabilities) of the industry is very close to $100 billion. This surplus is sufficient to feed five billion people a day. It is more money than than the combined excess of the three biggest sport leagues in the U.S.. The industry has a greater profit while making more than twenty times more movies than Hollywood a year. PornHub, one of the biggest actors of the industry, has a total of over 100 billion views; a number which is growing exponentially. Finally, porn sites get more daily visitors than Amazon, Twitter and Netflix combined.
Erotica: A History The beginning of porn, or more precise, erotica, can be traced back to the year of 1387. Geoffrey Chaucer wrote and published The Canterbury Tales, a well-respected literary work containing a collection of erotic stories. It contained more than 17,000 lines and tells erotic tales of 24 different pilgrim travelers. It may not have been the first erotic stories of human history; however, it was the first instance of erotic literature made available to a greater audience. Such literature would never be enabled without Gutenberg’s paradigm shifting innovation known as the printing press.
“With a sufficient number of photos, you can make a personalized erotic movie of yourself interacting with your unknowing crush.”
In this example and decades further on, technology was steering erotica in a certain direction. The available technology determined the availability of erotic media. The tides and the tables would not turn until more than 500 years later. In 1958 erotica started driving technological innovation. A glamour photographer with the name of Harrison Marks started using 8mm film, or Super 8 cameras, when filming women undressing and being topless in their homes. Several different filming devices were available on the market, however Super 8s were considered both cheap and extremely easy to utilize. As time progressed it became the standard, not only for “glamour home movies”, but also in the porn industry.
Electronic payment systems
In 1999 Internet users spent around $1.3 billion on online porn. This number amounted to 8% of all e-commerce this year, making porn the leading online industry. The porn industry is considered as the pioneer of electronic payment systems, and this is thanks to among others Richard J. Gordon and Christopher Mallick.
Richard J. Gordon is considered as one of the first people to enable transactions on the Web. In 1995 the credit card industry was well-established. However, online transactions using credit cards had some stigma to it. One reason was that there were no face-to-face dealings. Another factor was the fact that banks charged a higher rate for a great number of online businesses, because they were considered as “high-risk merchants”. Examples of high-risk merchants are gambling and pornography companies. However, one of Gordon’s companies, Electronic Card Systems, saw this stigma as an opportunity. He utilized an almost non-existing market for e-commercial transaction systems offering a new way to pay, and the porn industry had the strongest demand.
Christopher Mallick owned a company called ePassporte. According to himself, it was ”the first company to do real-time credit card verification”. Before this, credit cards would use several days to verify an online transaction, enabling scams and frauds. The business tried to work with other companies and industries, however porn was the only industry firmly focused on short-term revenue.
The combination of the porn industry’s focus on revenue and willingness to innovative thinking, made them the main drivers of online transactions. They really got the ball rolling, while also shaping the mechanics of payment systems. The concept of ecommerce, which is now a major part of the world economy, owes much of its early existence to porn.
From teledildonic to pregnancy belt
The term “teledildonic” was first coined in 1974 by the technological theorist Ted Nelson. The word describes sex toys that can connect over telecom networks. A product called RealTouch transformed this idea into reality. It is a masturbation device thought of as a digital brothel, enabling people to have sex over the Internet. The device uses a high-tech orifice with motors and heaters to redesign the sensations of real sex. While the teledildonic product flopped, it also had some important innovative features to it. A producer of diapers called Huggies utilized the same technological concept to create a pregnancy belt. It also used servo motors and heaters, but instead of being a pornographic device, it recreated the feeling of a baby kicking the mother’s womb. In this example porn created an initial market for a completely new technology and pushed it in the early stages. First when the technology matured it could turn to a more mainstream market.
What will the future hold?
Sex robots is the new trend. Human-like machines equipped with Artificial Intelligence (AI) made for love-making are already on the market. A sex-doll brothel in Italy has already been shut down. Some of these dolls even have emotional connection and they are believed to marry lonely people in the future. Another innovation in the porn industry is deepfakes. This is an instance of AI, or more precise deep learning, where users can personalize their porn experience. The AI can, by accessing several of your photos, learn different facial expressions and transfer the faces of the photos into existing pornographic movies. For example, with a sufficient number of photos, you can make a personalized erotic movie of yourself interacting with your unknowing crush. What can the repercussions of these innovations be? If sex robots succeed and become popular, how long will it be before we have a workforce of robots? They could help us clean the house, make food, walk the dog and even replace our jobs. When it comes to deepfakes, the technology could enable you to modify The Usual Suspects into an alternative movie about you and your criminal friends.
A short conclusion
The erotic sphere has developed from erotic tales in printing format into an easily accessible multi-billion-dollar industry moving boundaries and pushing technological advances. While being in power of driving technology in certain directions, creating initial markets for new technology, and combining existing technology to create new technologies, the porn industry can be said to have a distinctive willingness to innovate. It is a bold statement, but the technological sphere we know today would never be as diverse and fruitful without the industry of pornography. I cannot explicitly answer why technology loves to partner up with the erotic sphere, however I can quote a spokesman for one of the biggest porn companies in the world, xHamster: “For the sake of innovation, it’s a good thing people are so damn horny”.