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But it also raised a lot of questions, like: can you commit a sexual crime against a piece of code?
“It was simply overwhelming, we were inundated, swamped by an avalanche of men,” says Hans Guyt, whose organization first deployed Sweetie.
The researchers then programed a separate application to control the 3-D Sweetie on command.
For the first time ever, while the researchers were having an active IM conversation with the predators, the predators were seeing real-time video of a software-fabricated child typing away at a keyboard. In just 10 weeks Guyt and his team positively identified 1,000 sexual predators before they shut Sweetie down for good and then handed Interpol the dossiers of the individuals they positively identified.
But with the rise of cheap, affordable technology like webcams, high-speed Internet access, and online payment methods, now a person can, ironically, safely exploit a child halfway around the world from the comfort of his own living room–which is why WCST has exploded in recent years.
But even as this behavior increases, a large portion of the adult customers engaged in it can’t be technically classified as pedophilic, a psychiatric designation that is characterized by a long-term primary sexual attraction to prepubertal children.
However, judging the criminality of such actions gets confusing because Sweetie is not a 10-year-old girl–no matter what she looks like.
The result was a ultra-realistic 3-D model of a 10-year-old Filipino girl that would fool even the most accomplished Hollywood blockbuster animator.
The development of Sweetie itself took six months and, though Guyt wouldn’t divulge the software or the coding language used to make Sweetie, it’s likely that it was rendered in Maya.
Couldn’t it be argued that these people haven’t broken any laws? The novel approach that we promote does exactly that.”To prototype Sweetie, Guyt and his team first set up a pair of two-member research teams.
One member on each team would create a fake profile and imitate a 10-year-old girl named “Sweetie” in chat rooms, while the other team member collected information the customer was revealing through IM messages, which they then used to piece together the real identity of the predator.
But they quickly discovered a (perhaps appropriate) level of paranoia in their marks, who frequently requested visual confirmation that they were indeed talking to a real underage girl and were not part of a sting operation.