Naomi Wu, also known as Sexy Cyborg and as 机械妖姬 (Chinese for “Machinery Enchantress”), is a Chinese DIYmaker and internet personality. As an advocate of women in STEM, transhumanism, open source hardware, and body modifications, she attempts to challenge gender and tech stereotypes with a flamboyant public persona, using objectification of her appearance to inspire women. According to Wu, her English-language following on YouTube and Twitter is one of the largest, if not the largest, of any PRC citizen living in China; she lives and works in Shenzhen.
Wu at the 2017 Bangkok Mini Maker Faire
Wu’s maker projects often center on wearable technology, including cyberpunk clothes and accessories, along with other projects. One of her early designs (2015) was 3D-printed “Wu Ying” (Chinese for “shadowless”) platform heels, with a compartment that hides hacker tools including a keystroke recorder, a wireless router, and lock-picking tools. She explained to an interviewer that women’s clothing often lacks pockets, but “chunky platform style shoes that many women in China wear to appear taller—have a lot of unused space.”
In addition to her public work as a maker, Wu says she also works as a professional coder in Ruby on Rails, using a masculine pseudonym to protect her identity and preclude gender discrimination; she also reviews electronics. Wu maintains active Reddit and Twitter accounts under the noms de plume of SexyCyborg and RealSexyCyborg, respectively.
On International Women’s Day 2017 she was listed as one of the 43 most influential women in 3D printing, a male-dominated field, by 3D Printer & 3D Printing News. She regards the usage of 3D printing in the Chinese classroom (where rote memorization is standard) to teach design principles and creativity as the most exciting development of the technology, and more generally regards 3D printing as being the next desktop publishing revolution. She regards “Chinese gadgets” as good as or better than foreign.
In 2013 the Post-Polio Health International (PHI) organizations estimated that there were only six to eight iron lung users in the United States; as of 2017 its executive director knew of none. Press reports then emerged, however, of at least three (perhaps the last three) users of such devices, sparking interest among those in the makerspace community such as Wu (who had never heard of iron lungs before) in the remanufacture of the obsolete components, particularly the gaskets, and prompting discussion of the regulatory and legal issues involved.
On November 5, 2017 Dale Dougherty, the CEO of Maker Media, publisher of Make: magazine, doubted Wu’s authenticity in a since deleted tweet —”I am questioning who she really is. Naomi is a persona, not a real person. She is several or many people.” On November 6, 2017, Dougherty publicly apologized to Wu for “my recent tweets questioning your identity,” saying they represented a failure to live up to the inclusivity Make magazine should value. Wu herself considers the matter settled.
Wu appeared on the February/March 2018 cover of Make, which also included an article about her experiences with open source hardware in China. Wu was the first Chinese person ever to appear on the cover of Make.
In 2018, a reporter from Vice spent three days with Wu in Shenzhen, exploring the city, meeting Wu’s friends, photographing Wu’s home, and describing in depth the local creative history and Wu’s recent creation, the Sino:Bit, a single-board microcontroller for computer education in China, and the first Chinese open-source hardware product to be certified by the Open Source Hardware Association.
The article drew criticism from Wu and from others when it was revealed that according to her agreement with Vice, details of her personal life should have been left out of the article, out of fear of retaliation by the Chinese government; Vice refused to comply and published the details regardless.
After Vice failed to retract the story, Wu created a video in which she made boots with tiny video screens, which briefly displayed Vice’s editor-in-chief’s home address. Vice responded by having Wu’s Patreon account withdrawn for “doxxing“. This temporarily stalled Wu’s independent maker career, and she returned to freelance coding for a brief period of time.
- Sexy Cyborg FAQ on Pastebin
- Thingiverse designs
- Naomi Wu’s channel on YouTube
- Naomi Wu on Twitter
- Imgur galleries
- Portrayal in DFRobot & China Daily
- NYT Welcome Our New Fembot Overlords (Naomi Wu appears at 2:24)
- Make (magazine)-Vol 61, March 2018 – Cover story about Naomi Wu and other makers from that region.
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