Arse Elektronika 2011: Opening Night

I recently returned from Arse Elektronika 2011 in San Francisco, which is run by monochrom, an arts collective from Austria. The general theme of the conference is sex and technology (it’s a get-together for “brainy pervs”), but it’s pretty hard to describe. This was the first public sex related event that I’ve ever attended, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect.1 For those of you who weren’t able to make it, I’ll be sharing my experiences over a couple of posts.

The TLDR(Too Long Didn’t Read) is that this is basically a bunch of smart, geeky people hanging out and talking about sex and technology in a vaguely academic form. People present their own ideas and research, and this fosters interesting questions and discussions (often with a sense of humor).  Many of the speakers had a pretty broad definition of what constitutes technology, like I do, although I was hoping to see more talks that focused on sexual experiences outside of just orgasm.

Opening night took place at Chez Poulet.2 There were only about 30 people there, of which only about 8 of us were presenting as women. I was a little nervous that the entire conference might have that kind of gender ratio, but things got much better as the days went on.

The opening night mainly consist of Johannes Grenzfurthner presenting highlights from past conferences. Jonathan Mann provided some musical interludes. Johannes also gave out two “Golden Kleene” awards: one to Ned and Maggie Mayhem of the PSIgasm project, and one to David Fine for his mind-controlled dildo, which he made by hacking a children’s toy.

The first time it really struck me that this with no ordinary conference was when Ned and Maggie Mayhem took to the stage to accept their award and they played a video from their site Meet the Mayhems. The video starts by showing Ned and Maggie doing cute-couple things like camping, hiking, and doing relief work in Haiti. We then cut to cut a clip of Ned standing naked in a spring, jacking off, followed by a shot of Ned and Maggie having some really hot sex in a kitchen. It was a little odd to see Ned and Maggie on stage, outfitted in formal attire, standing next to a video of themselves fucking.

The other highlight of the evening was a short presentation by Aaron Muszalski, who announced a new competition: The seX Prize, a teledildonics Turing test.3  The idea of a teledildonics Turing test is to have a volunteer having sex with a machine in a curtained-off area. The volunteer has to guess whether the machine is being operated by another person or via a software program.  Aaron kindly invited me to serve on the advisory board for the seX Prize (which was how I heard about Arse to begin with).  More on the competition in a later post.

Overall, opening night provided me with some good context for the conference. The real highlight of the event for me was the talks, which I’ll cover in another post.  If there’s anything in particular you want to make sure I discuss, let me know!

  1. Especially since I guessed that there might be some overlap with the kink scene in San Francisco, and Everything I Know About “The Scene” I Learned From Maymay.
  2. Which sure sounds like it should be a restaurant, even though it isn’t one. This was somewhat disappointing as I had arrived expecting we’d be having dinner there. :p
  3. The basic idea of the traditional Turing test is it’s an AI (Artificial Intelligence) competition in which a human volunteer sits at a computer and converses via instant message with an unknown entity (either a computer program or another person). The goal is to write software convincing enough that it fools the volunteer into believing that they are talking with another person.

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