NEWPORT BEACH – Arguments related to a couple whose marriage devolved online thanks to cyber attacks they sponsored against each other is being heard by the most judicious minds in the nation, even as details related to the husband and wife’s elaborate extramarital affairs continue to play out on social media to an audience of millions of Americans.
The landmark case involving the nuptial dissolution of 46-year-old Travis and Danielle Smith began shortly after the couple’s son Michael started college at the University of California Irvine two years ago, according to court testimony and digital threads that remain active on Chatbook, the couple’s preferred social networking site.
A romantic quarrel that erupted in the wake of the Smith’s ‘empty nest’ escalated into the spouses’ online escapism from each other through a tech marketing firm that promised to save themselves from their ‘imploding marriage,’ court and digital records show.
Mr. and Mrs. Smith sought separately and privately the services of the same company, Extended Love, which promised to create on their behalf ‘fake’ accounts and artificially-intelligent ‘bots’ to test each other’s resolve in marriage.
However, according to the Smith’s, the artificial intelligence devices they employed to learn more about each other’s secret sexual desires only undermined their relationship and amounted to a failed social media exercise in ‘mind control.’
At issue for the Supreme Court, which has begun hearing arguments this week in the case, is the question of how much influence artificially-intelligent devices on the Internet should be allowed to have over public discourse.
“The fact is,” said Sheryl Goddard, a computer programmer who testified in the case, “A.I. is here to stay, and for many of us, our first experiences with it occur online. But how do we control the automated trolls designed to manipulate us through our virtual echo chambers – or ‘news feeds,’ as we like to call them – all the while providing us with misleading information … about the candidates we vote for … the restaurants where we eat … even the sexual partners we seek?”
A marriage run amok on Nike’s and overalls
During her testimony, Mrs. Smith said that while she surfed the Internet on her husband’s desktop computer one afternoon while he was working at the hospital, she noticed a cache of pornography linked to his web browser, which prompted her to question him when he returned home that evening and led to his confession that he felt that their love life over their past two decades of marriage had grown ‘stale.’
“With Michael gone, I think it’s time we broaden our sexual experiences,” Mr. Smith is reported to have said to Mrs. Smith, but she disagreed.
“I told him that what he suggested was a slippery slope, and I had serious reservations where such ‘explorations’ might lead,” she told the court.
Likewise, Mr. Smith affirmed during testimony that he promised his wife that he would try his best to ‘suppress any unfulfilled sexual fantasies,’ which he said centered mostly on a ‘foot fetish’ and ‘pubic exhibitionism.’
However, while sipping Scotch in his study late one evening, Mr. Smith noticed targeted ads appear on his Chatbook news feed. The ads featured ‘tanned, long-legged ladies wearing bright running shoes,’ which prompted him to negate his promise to his wife.
“I hunched over the keyboard and joined as many online meet-up groups that would take me,” said Mr. Smith. “I was hoping to find an athletic woman willing to indulge my desires and take a jaunt with me around the park wearing Nike’s, and then maybe screw around with me afterward behind a bush.”
Meanwhile, Mrs. Smith said she noticed an uptick in ‘peculiar’ Internet activity along with ‘odd’ direct messages sent to her husband, which appeared on his desktop computer while he was at the hospital.
“That was when I decided to contact Extended Love, whose representatives claimed to specialize in testing spouse’s fidelity through an online phishing program,” said Mrs. Smith.
After asking company reps a few questions in a chat room, Mrs. Smith said she was hooked.
“They sounded legit to me,” said she during testimony.
Despite her commitment to her marriage, Mrs. Smith said she had her own suppressed sexual fantasies as a stay-at-home mother that she longed to play out in real life and involved her fawning over ‘emotionally unavailable men,’ she revealed to the court.
In fact, Mrs. Smith admitted that the real reason why she began ‘snooping’ on her husband’s desktop computer in the first place was to find online ‘playboys’ who would be willing to ‘spice up’ her love life and help her feel ‘young and wanted and desirable again.’
However, Mrs. Smith’s efforts to conceal her Internet searches failed after Mr. Smith started noticing targeted ads appearing on his Chatbook news feed in the evenings, which included ‘muscular farm boys wearing overalls’ and led to his own investigation into his wife’s digital record.
Eventually, Mr. Smith’s search led him to Extended Love, which he hired to ‘better understand’ Mrs. Smith’s romantic interests.
Soon, each spouse was embroiled in love affairs with bots whose profile pics and personalities were fabrications created by a tech marketing firm that used deep machine learning to ‘analyze’ and ‘respond’ to greater and greater depths their clients’ respective sexual proclivities.
The results, according to Mr. and Mrs. Smith, has been disastrous.
“I spent weekends in the study jacking off on Skype as I took virtual jogging tours with a gal named ‘Loretta,’” admitted Mr. Smith during testimony. “Meanwhile, Danielle lounged in the living room with her iPad and left to her own devices enjoying barnyard romps with an online persona named ‘Jack.’”
‘Extended Love’ exposed in a public place
The Smiths admitted that they sometimes noticed each other active on Chatbook at the same time, but it was only after the bots began leaving amorous messages of an increasing intimate nature on their timelines that each marriage partner – and members of the public – became aware of the other’s love affair.
“It all went downhill from there,” said Mr. Smith during testimony. “The bots somehow got a mind of their own, it seems, and dragged us into scandal. Even after Danielle and I confronted each other privately about the issues we were having in our marriage, it was too late. Word was out.”
The Smiths said they deleted their Chatbook accounts; even so, ‘Loretta’ and ‘Jack’ created new ones that mirrored their lovers’ former online identities.
“Suddenly, Travis and I had social media doppelgangers, pictures and personalities spliced from sources across the Internet that reflected us in every way — except they were not us, of course,” said Mrs. Smith during testimony. “The fake Travis and Danielle continued to wallow online in their love affairs with Loretta and Jack. They even hacked into our bank accounts and purchased flowers, mopeds, and other generous gifts for their virtual mister and mistress.”
Mr. Smith’s license to practice podiatry was revoked late last year after revelations about his fascination with his client’s feet began to surface on the Internet, thanks to the fake Travis account. Mrs. Smith filed for divorce shortly after a neighbor showed her on his mobile phone the ‘fake’ news and video footage that the bots retrieved from Mr. Smith’s desktop computer in his study — and then spread online – concerning the scope of his fetish and violation of his patients’ privacy.
“Travis had a collection of clips he took secretly on his phone and then buried on his hard drive showing his patients’ nail-polished toes and the dark jam sometimes wedged between them,” said Mrs. Smith during testimony. “I never really understood the extent of my husband’s kinkiness until his doppelganger decided to become a social justice warrior advocating for the beauty and glory of people’s feet.”
At the Smith’s request, Extended Love refunded them their money and tried to intervene in their bungled online marriage, but to no avail.
Otherwise, lawyers from Extended Love refused to comment any further on the case.
“It’ll take years to sort out the missteps,” said Mr. Smith during testimony. “Hopefully the Supreme Court can figure out a way to regulate artificial intelligence responsibly. Danielle and I have been divorced for a while now, and yet our love affairs continue to play out on social media by bots impersonating us for all the world to see.”
Michael, a biology major, agreed that his father and mother’s relationship will likely have a long-term impact on his and other people’s lives.
“It’s dumb, when you think about it,” said Michael to the court. “Everyone at college follows my parent’s relationship online, but few believe me when I tell them it’s a lie. Maybe A.I. is just having fun with our species’ gullibility.”
Angela Mendez, Jan. 4, 2020