In recent years, the proliferation of artificial intelligence (AI) has reached unprecedented levels, reshaping the digital landscape and raising profound questions about its implications for society.
One of the most significant challenges brought forth by the AI revolution is the emergence of low-quality content flooding the web. Algorithmically generated text has given rise to an abundance of junk websites, drowning out meaningful material online. This phenomenon represents a critical juncture in the history of technology, as the promise of revolutionary digital spaces seems to be faltering.
In 2023, AI has become omnipresent, integrated into everyday technologies from messaging apps to smartphone cameras. The question arises: Did society ever actively seek this level of AI integration? Many tech platforms now incorporate AI features, often leading to an influx of unnecessary elements. User-friendly platforms have transitioned into ad-heavy interfaces, leaving users frustrated and inconvenienced. The term “enshittification,” coined by technology scholar Cory Doctorow, aptly describes this decline in user experience over time.
Social media platforms have transformed users into subjects of experimentation, with manipulative software designed to extract constant attention and “engagement.” Notifications and like/follow buttons perpetuate the generation of divisive content rather than fostering meaningful discussions. Much of what populates our feeds consists of covert ads, subtly infiltrating our online experiences.
The rise of short videos
The popularity of short videos, epitomized by TikTok and adopted by other platforms, has had a particularly detrimental effect on attention spans. These bite-sized, decontextualized clips, often deemed “relatable,” create a never-ending stream of content. While individual clips may elicit reactions, the collective impact is a formless, shapeless, and potentially destructive assault on attention spans, exacerbated by AI-generated “content.”
The statements and values of those championing AI integration raise concerns. Some prominent figures in the AI industry have expressed ambitions to replace the “median human” with AI, sparking fears of job displacement. Additionally, suggestions that AI can replace healthcare services for the less privileged are met with criticism for their insensitivity and ignorance.
The dark side of AI
AI’s impact extends far beyond convenience and entertainment. Concerns include the environmental toll of AI’s energy consumption, the surveillance facilitated by vast personal data usage, biased datasets leading to problematic outcomes, and the emotional toll on those tasked with “cleaning” AI of harmful content. Unauthorized scraping of works from writers and artists to build datasets further raises ethical concerns.
The real threats posed by AI lie in its amplification of existing societal divides. While concerns about “killer robots” capture the imagination, the actual dangers stem from AI’s potential to exacerbate social fault lines at various levels.
The Internet, already inundated with intrusive ads and pop-ups, faces a new challenge with rampant “search engine optimization.” This trend threatens to render the web nearly unusable. Additionally, AI-generated answers in search results, often incorrect, have the potential to mislead millions. The rise of advanced AI media generators poses the risk of inundating digital spaces with convincing fake videos, eroding trust in online information.
A critical juncture
The current state of tech platforms, social media, and the Internet as a whole demands reflection. Is the current trajectory of technological development sustainable? Can society advocate for a more democratic approach to technology? Will users make conscious choices to support platforms that align with their values? Importantly, society must recognize that AI’s influence will have profound effects on global culture and critical thinking.
As society grapples with the implications of AI, it must question the passive acceptance of every new feature imposed by tech companies. Vigilance, critique, and even rejection of these developments are essential. The AI era may serve as a turning point, prompting a collective awakening from complacency and ushering in an evolution in human intelligence.