how a.i. is ruining the web and leaving humans behind
While there’s been gnashing of teeth, rending of garments, and spilling of ink, or rather bytes to be appropriately pedantic, about the projected number of jobs to be destroyed by ChatGPT and its counterparts, far too little attention has been paid to just how terrible they’re about to make your internet experience. Of course, there’s a significant conversation to be had about the very tense relationship between humanity and automation, but for a change, let’s pick a smaller and more immediate battle to fight first.
Generative AI can create a torrent of content very quickly with fairly minimal prompting, answering questions or expanding on concepts as tersely as possible or in reams of logorrhea depending on your precise request. It can also be passable enough at first glance, include links, and provide unique verbiage for every request. And this is absolutely perfect for search, rank, and social media algorithms that like quantity and speed, and judge quality based on incoming links, uniqueness, and quality of site construction and its markup code.
Buzzfeed and other publications that rely on flooding social media with a tsunami of quizzes, explainers, and clickbait for traffic and ad revenue, have taken notice and either signaled their willingness to use AI to generate much of that content instead of hiring writers, or just started quietly pumping out AI-generated articles with strange bylines. With most media outlets in dire straits, either failing to break even, get enough traffic to keep funding coming in, or just being wrung dry by predatory owners, expect to see a lot more of this in your timeline.
prepare for machine-optimized outrage bait
Quite a few stories on social media feeds already sound like they were written solely to hit a quota of partisan outrage buzzwords. Left-leaning publications keep asking if literally anything you say, do, or enjoy is racist or classist, even condemning a viral charity stunt on YouTube in which a thousand people were given eye surgery as “ableist.” Meanwhile right-wing outlets are livid that strip clubs, the military, and corporations are now “too woke” while decrying Chick-fil-a’s new cauliflower offering as the chain succumbing to Woke Marxist Villainy™.
Social media platforms, whose algorithms very much encourage such divisive clickbait since outrage generates more ad views and metrics to sell to advertisers, made sure these stories dominate your timeline unless you’re hypervigilant about muting and blocking with every scroll. While ChatGPT will refuse prompts to generate aforementioned outrage bait, its competitors may be inclined to make a container ship full of cash to let outlets like the Daily Mail, Rebel, or Daily Wire use it to raise grandpa’s blood pressure for clicks at an inhuman rate.
Just imagine the typical, already clickbait-heavy timeline, explode with ever more infuriating content, algorithmically tweaked and analyzed to churn out a buzzword-laden torrent of bile, concern trolling, and paranoia, then further combined with generative AI to create incendiary images and videos, taking fake news to the next level. Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok win, the outlets win, and the AI companies win, so whether the humans — who are already only a product sold on ad-supported platforms — lose, is of little to no consequence. As long as they still click, no one cares.
why your searches might become useless
Experts looking through search results on Google are sounding the alarms that the output is now full of ads, out of context attempts to answer questions and deny clicks to sites which have more context and should be rewarded with traffic, and are easily swarmed by garbage built to rank highly rather than be of any good. Even worse, a lot of Google’s selections for quick results and answers are wildly misleading or just incorrect. Even its attempt to show that Google could compete with ChatGPT in the search game went awry thanks to erroneous answers.
With Google responsible for some 9 in 10 searches, just imagine how much worse the situation could get if all those crawled sites are now also full of mostly passable AI generated articles that were created for the sole purpose of improving their rankings in the results, getting a human to click, and either watch an ad or click on one. Forget the days of instantly searching for whatever you wanted to know at a moment’s notice. You won’t be able to trust literally anything you see because both the algorithm and the AI are liable to make numerous mistakes.
All right, you might counter, that sounds bad, but surely Google would be able to fix this. One would hope so, but a) this will be an uphill fight even for the world’s biggest tech giants due to the sheer volume and increasing sophistication of crap, b) just like social media, search is most profitable when it agrees with people and shows them tons of ads more than anything, and c) any attempts to control the tsunami of AI-generated garbage will face countermeasures from the creators of said AI-generated garbage.
so, who is the web really for nowadays?
In the end, we may very well be looking at a web where algorithms use AI to write for other AI and algorithms to win a ranking and impression war in which all humans are required to do is click, view, and ideally, buy. It’s an ecosystem where we’re just a mechanism that triggers some exchange of cash and validates this exchange as legitimate. That’s it. This is new web’s ultimate plan for us. Forget being the world’s encyclopedia, the internet is now merely a shopping mall for bots and we’re only there to provide the payment information.
There’s a reason why ad supported sites were called the original sin of the web, and now we’re seeing it. Rather than incentivize good content and stickiness, as they were first intended, they ended up oversaturating the web to such a point that people began to tune them out and the game became getting clicks and eyeballs by any means necessary. Meanwhile, the ads became desperate, predatory, and the networks to deliver them are now fraught with fraud and scams no one wants to fix because better, cleaner ads mean less revenue.
And this brings us to the ultimate question in all this. What are we doing and how did we allow the problem to get so bad that we’ve become nothing more than expendable cogs in our own machines, machines that churn for the sake of churning because the world’s wealthiest people really like to see it churn more than it did during the last cycle? ChatGPT shouldn’t be feared, it should be a wakeup call that our current financial model for the web is dehumanizing, unsustainable, exploitative, and no longer serves its intended purpose.