from bao's blog
i used to think ai was bad and refused to use ai products because of how they require tons of data collection, but i've changed my mind on it a bit. i still try to use ai products that only use ethical data collection (if there is such a thing), but i think ai might be great for the internet, because maybe it'll get people to stop taking the internet so seriously.
we've all seen all the ai-produced memes and art that have exploded onto the internet, especially after the release of stable diffusion, and text content which can be generated with chatgpt. both of these have lead to a ton of creative uses (particularly stable diffusion over verbose, generic unhelpful chatgpt-written text), but also some talk on how it'll be harder to tell what is real on the internet after anyone can create realistic looking images and long-form text easily. but they're missing the point:
nothing on the internet is real
none of it. i don't care if it's “fact checked”, i don't care if it's certified by a real xyz professional, i don't care if it's self-evident, none of it is real.
when the internet started becoming popular, we would say to never talk about your real life on the internet, don't say your name online, don't share your birthday, don't trust anything you read on the internet, and we all somehow seemed to have forgotten this over years and years of the internet becoming normalized, mobile phones democratizing technology to even the most technologically-impaired. it's easy to think that the internet has made the lines between reality and online much more blurred. but they aren't, and it's easy to fix if you just consider everything online to not be real! now, this might seem to be an almost schizophrenic-level position to hold, but don't worry, there's lots of good reasons to believe so:
information on the internet isn't real
the internet has been described as bringing humanity into the informational age, as this vast store of human knowledge, but it's not. it's the accumulation of data, which can be and is often very different from objective reality. and the data on the internet has always been junk. we've known this from the beginning, search any argument and you will find a billion results affirming why something is one way, search the opposite and you will find another billion results affirming the other.
this problem isn't new, (imo) it's the fundamental question behind the philosophical question of postmodernism, and one that philosophers have been wrestling with for decades (and have made some interesting thoughts about). this isn't an insurmountable problem in many cases, one can generally find working conclusions from the data, but it isn't the case when things get muddier, which reality tends to do quite frequently. in those cases, it's easy to pick the easiest solution that explains most of the data, but it's easy to forget the main points: the data may or may not be real, and thus the conclusions from that data may or may not be real, because information from the internet works like we do: dreaming or hallucinating.
the human brain is an incredible thinking machine, but often times that thinking isn't done consciously, or even when we're awake. how many times have you had a problem you were thinking of, and the pieces seem to only come together after you've slept or dreamt of it? how many times have you found something just because you thought something else was the case and stumbled onto the true answer? we can have complete knowledge that something was a dream, or a mistake (a hallucination), but we can still use those to consciously discover real truths, make real conclusions, and create real artworks and content, without ever losing our ability what to distinguish what is real and what was just a dream, which would be the definition of psychosis. we just need to remember that internet content are like the dreams and the misconceptions (hallucinations) we have along the way, and that believing that internet content is real would be the real delusion.
i think ai can help in this regard. a really good description of ai-generated content is how ai “hallucinates” its results, it doesn't use logic or reason (obviously, it's like glorified markov chains, why the hell would you think it's real), and as ai proliferates, more of this hallucinated content will make it's way to the internet. i think being confronted with such obviously hallucinated content (people with 7 fingers, text content presenting obvious fallacies with complete confidence, etc) will force people to realize that not just some, but all internet content are basically just hallucinations!
“but!” you say, “i can read a guide on how to fix my car on the internet and gain the actual knowledge to actually fix my car! surely that can't be fake!”
knowledge on the internet isn't real
while your fixed car might not be a delusion, believing you had the knowledge of fixing your car, until you actually fixed it would be. consider me: i don't know car maintenance as well as i wish i did, and i recently just got my tires changed by professionals. i could have watched youtube videos on how to change tires, read countless articles about what steps to follow when changing tires, even used virtual reality applications to simulate changing a tire, but would i have any actual knowledge on how to change a tire? i would say no, i wouldn't know the intricacies of how certain techniques in changing a tire can affect the other parts of the car, what quirks some models of cars have with lug nuts, the sensory feedback of physically changing a real tire in the real world on a real car, all of the things that a real tire professional has that makes them good at their job.
instead, by using all that internet content, i might have some idea of what changing a tire is like in reality like how some parts of a dream might match up to reality, in truth i have only tricked myself into believing that i might have some knowledge of how to change tires, until I did it myself, and probably realized that no, i should've made sure the lug nuts were perfectly clean, that my torque wrench needs to be adjusted 10% more because it's a cheap one from harbor freight, oh god i missed the click and just snapped the bolt completely off and i forgot to chock the car and now it's fallen off the jack stands and-
in other words, i would've been confronted with the actual reality that i didn't have the real-world knowledge, the real-world experience that i paid a real-world professional to do it for instead. and it's even clearer to see when considering something as banal as entering all your symptoms onto webmd (don't worry, we've all done it). the age old story of “oh god, i have appendicitis, i have an ulcur, i have stomach cancer”, when a doctor with real world knowledge goes “no, you had taco bell and have gas” is one that you might have to live for yourself if you don't agree.
“but!” you might say, “even if i can't get the real experience of changing a tire through the internet, i can still get real experiences through the internet, the emotions and actions that i experience using online spaces is happening in the real world and is real!”
even more unfortunately:
experiences on the internet aren't real
this might be a bitter pill to swallow, considering how much some of us have invested our lives onto the internet at this point. and this isn't to say that so many people's lives haven't been irrefutably improved by the internet. but to assert that the experiences on the internet are the same as real life would be a grave mistake.
and it's easy to understand by hanging out with people online. being an introvert, i've always had internet friends, and the fact that i can connect with so many people i could otherwise never have even known at all is a great blessing. if you've seen my profile, you probably know that i'm a rather large gun nut, and maintaining the tools and abilities needed for my personal protection is a personal aim that i've had for a long time. and because of that, i've surprisingly (for an extreme introvert) have not shied away from meeting internet people in real life, and have always enjoyed it very much! (try it, it's really not that scary as you might think, even though telling someone else and carrying pepper spray at the very least is probably still a good idea).
for me, it's always fascinating how different people might be in person from what you might have in your head from their online persona. but more importantly, how different of an experience it might be to hanging out with them online. even if they're exactly the same as how they are online (which imo is not very often the case), the experience can still be completely different (and very rarely the case in a bad way).
on it's own, an online experience being different than the real-world one might not be enough to convince you that an online experience isn't real. however, i just ask you to consider the difference between watching a pov video of someone jumping out of an airplane and actually jumping out of an airplane, and why we're so hesitant to apply the same logic to all of our online interactions, not just the really fun paramotoring videos i could watch so much of. while dreams can be fun, there are definitely some dreams that i'm glad i could wake up from. while the assurance that something is a dream might be nice to have, the realization that a lifetime was is most assuredly not.
so, the internet isn't real
and that's ok. the internet doesn't have to be real, just like dreams don't need to be real, but that doesn't mean that the things you read online, your misconceptions (remember, hallucinations), online friends, the fun video and voice calls, the group chats, the online discussions and arguments, that one person who really pisses you off, that one really funny comment, the sometimes disturbing memes people share, the big-boobied ai-generated anime girls, the overly niche micro-communities, the embarrassing parasocial attachments, that one person you were so scared to talk to but turned out to be really nice, the tear-jerkers, the “it's so over”s, all the “we're so back”, the vicarous experiences and all the rest aren't any less valuable to the only thing that truly matters and uses all of it for better or worse, whether you want it to or not:
and that's really something worth being real about (fr fr no cap on god)