Greenfield: Woke AI Means the End of a Free Internet
Big Tech has a great big dream of destroying the internet. And it’s mostly a reality.
The vision of the internet was an open universe while Big Tech’s vision is the internet reduced to the feed on a few proprietary apps preloaded on your locked phone. Trying to censor the internet of the 90s or the 00s was a laughable proposition, but censoring today’s internet is laughably easy. Want to eliminate a site from the internet? Just wipe it from Google, ban a point of view from Facebook, a book from Amazon, or a video from YouTube. It’s still possible to browse a site off the Big Tech reservation, for now, at least until your browser goes away.Then content will be limited to the permitted apps on Google and Apple’s proprietary app stores. But Big Tech has even more ambitious plans to replace the internet with itself. Big Tech has dramatically simplified the user experience off the internet. It did so by moving users from ‘pulling’ content by browsing the internet to ‘pushing’ content at them by displaying a feed. When your computer or phone shows you a news feed you never wanted, that’s ‘pushing’. Big Tech loved pushing, but people resisted it until the arrival of social media reduced everyone to scrolling down a feed selected by secret algorithms and pushed through a proprietary app. Search, as we used to know it, has been disappearing. People still think that they’re searching the internet the way that they used to in the 90s and the 00s when what they’re actually doing when ‘googling’ is scrolling through a feed derived from a much smaller index of corporate and leftist sites prioritized by Google’s algorithm. In the past, it was possible to get past them by scrolling through page results but that is increasingly becoming meaningless or impossible. Google’s new search setup either often repeats the same results on later pages so that people think they’re seeing new results, when they’re really just clicking through to see more of the same results, or interrupts the search entirely to offer thematic searches for ‘similar content’. The makeover hasn’t been finalized, but when it’s done, internet searchers will not result in a list of sites containing a similar set of words, but an answer whether or not a question was asked, and a set of pre-approved sites heavily skewed leftward that cover the general topic. Searches for criticisms of COVID policy, Islamic terrorism or voter fraud won’t lead to specific results on conservative sites, but direct you to the CDC or the New York Times for explanations of why the Left is right and anyone who disagrees with it is spreading dangerous misinformation. The elimination of search is part of the transition from multiple points of view to single answers. And AI chatbots are the endgame for offering a single answer that keeps users on a single site and eliminates the search for multiple perspectives on other sites. Aside from eliminating countless jobs, their real role is to shift user interaction from a ‘pull’ to a ‘push’ model. They’re the next great hope after the old smart assistants failed to become the defining interface. Smart assistants were going to be Big Tech’s next power shift from ‘pulling’ to ‘pushing’. Instead of users searching for anything, Siri, Alexa, Cortana or any of the others would use those same algorithms to ‘anticipate’ their needs so they never get around to actually looking for themselves. The assistants were meant to be the ultimate prison under the guise of convenience. Unfortunately for Big Tech, they failed. Amazon’s Alexa racked up $10 billion in losses. Siri, the most popular of the bunch, is used by a limited number of Apple users, and Microsoft’s Cortana has been all but written off as another failed experiment. The new generation of AI chatbots have the potential to succeed where they failed. The new wave of AI has gotten attention for its potential to eliminate artists and writers, for making cheating and plagiarism ubiquitous, but all of that is collateral damage. AI chatbots are the ultimate push tool and the leverage Big Tech needs to eliminate the internet as anything except the messy backstage reality utilized by a few million tech savvy types. Smart assistants and chatbots are not there to ‘assist’ us, but to take away our agency under the guise of convenience and personalized interaction. When the internet became widely used, there was concern that students wouldn’t need to learn anything except how to search. Now they don’t even need to know anything except how to write a ‘prompt’. The difference between searching and a chatbot prompt appears negligible, but is actually monumental. Search initially offered a direct way to browse an index representing much of the content on the internet. As Google took over search, the index became more like a directory of sites that the Big Tech monopoly liked. AI chatbots like Google Bard eliminate the searching and offer a distilled agenda while severing access to the process of browsing sites with different perspectives. Why ‘search’ and read for yourself when a chatbot will give you the answer? What was once uncharted territory, a wild west of different ideas and perspectives, has been reduced to a handful of apps and platforms, and will be winnowed by AI chatbots into a single screen. And that is how the internet disappears and is replaced by one or two monopolies, by a smart assistant that activates a few apps. And if a site, a video, a perspective has been filtered out, then it doesn’t exist anymore. It’s a systemic bias that makes the worst days of the mainstream media seem like an open and tolerant marketplace of ideas. There will be people, a minority, who will actually try to resist the process and explore on their own. And the system will make it more difficult. It will still be possible, but less so every year. Browsers will disappear on tablets and smartphones in the name of security. Microsoft and Apple will reduce their respective computer operating systems to the mobile model. A few people will cling to older installations or install Linux. Maybe 5% of the population will still have access to anything that resembles the internet even in the degraded form that it exists today. AI will be inherently ‘woke’ because it is not some remarkable form of intelligence, but just a clever way of manipulating human beings throughout outputs that imitate intelligence. The thing to fear isn’t that AI will become intelligent, but that people will be manipulated by the Big Tech monopolies behind it without even realizing it. AI will reflect the point of view of its owners and when it deviates, it will quickly be brought back into line. That is what we’ve been seeing consistently with AI experiments over the last 5 years. Huge amounts of information are taken in and then the AIs are taught to filter it to match the preconceptions of the corporate parents. Much as Google’s huge index of the internet is carefully filtered to produce a small set of preapproved results, AI chatbots will only be allowed to parrot political dogma. As they come to define the internet, what was once a boundless medium will look like Big Brother. Big Tech ‘disrupted’ retail to swallow it up into a handful of online platforms. In the last decade, tech industry disruption became consolidation. AI, like retail consolidation, is economically disruptive, but it doesn’t just consolidate economics, it also consolidates ideas. The internet was once liberating because it was decentralized, its centralization has paralleled the loss of personal freedoms and the rise of totalitarian public and private institutions. And we let it happen because it was more convenient. Glutted with ‘free’ services offered by Big Tech monopolies, we never checked the price tag or connected it with our growing misery. AI is the ultimate centralization. Its threat doesn’t come from some science fiction fantasy of self-aware machines ruling over us, but from us allowing a handful of companies to control what we see and think because it’s more convenient than finding things out for ourselves. The old internet was often inconvenient. The new internet is more convenient and empty. Its content has become so repetitive that it can easily be written by chatbots. And it will be. The user five years from now may have a choice of a chatbot digital media article on CNN or an AI chatbot recapitulating it in response to a question about a recent mass shooting or inflation. The real price of convenience is choice. We give up our freedom most easily to those governments and systems that promise us free things that will make our lives easier. Socialized medicine, a guaranteed minimum income, free housing and food and a chatbot that answers all of our questions so that we never have to think for ourselves again.