Woman developing AI that detects dick pics to make Twitter a safer place
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Being a woman means living in constant fear of being sent a dick pic. They could come from anywhere at any time. You don't even need to be on a dating app. One day, you're minding your own business, then Bam! A dick pic just slid into your DMs on Twitter. You didn't ask for it. It's just there in full glory.

Now, all womankind has a new hero. Researchers at the University of Washington are working on an AI to detect and delete dick pics.

This is why we need more women in STEM.

It all started when Kelsey Bressler received an unsolicited dick pic on Twitter, and then posted about it. A friend approached Bressler about creating an AI that will detect, then delete dick pics before you get a chance to feel like your eyes need a shower. "When you receive a photo unsolicited, it feels disrespectful and violating," Bressler told the BBC. "It's the virtual equivalent of flashing someone in the street. You're not giving them a chance to consent, you are forcing the image on them, and that is never OK."


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In order to test out the AI, the team set up an inbox on Twitter, then asked men to "send nudes for science." Pretty quickly, they had to shut down the inbox because it got flooded with responses.


The AI successfully has been able to spot 95% of "vanilla penis pictures" submitted to it, although it has been tricked a few times. "There was an entire penis coated in glitter, so it looked metallic," Bressler told Slate. "Someone submitted a picture of their penis in a little penis cage — didn't catch that one. And someone else put their penis in a hot dog bun."

Bumble recently came out with a feature that detects dick pics and other inappropriate photos, but for the most part, tech companies haven't done enough to tackle the penis problem. "Our intent was to make something to prove it can be made," Bressler told Slate. "If it takes two random people coming in and making a solution, then we should ask, 'why aren't companies taking this more seriously?'" Bressler has been told to close her DMs, but it's not an adequate solution. [W]e should not have to shut ourselves off to the world because some people do not know how to behave," Bressler told the BBC.

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Bressler isn't alone when it comes to receiving unwanted anatomical photos. According to You Gov, one in four millennial men have sent a dick pic at some point in their lives, and 24% of those men have sent dick pics without being asked to do so. Over half (53%) of millennial women have received a dick pic. And 78% of those women said the dick pic was unsolicited.

Technology has made it easier for men to assault women. It's about time we have the technology to keep women safe from being flashed.

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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

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This article originally appeared on 03.19.15


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