A Market for Signs of Life

Stable Diffusion image for prompt "A single book, lost in a library that goes on forever"

Sometime around 1993 in North America–and a little later, maybe 1995, for much of the rest of the world–the number of people who used the internet began to accelerate. More people put more stuff (today this stuff is often called “content”) online: at first mostly text, then images, finally video and all the rest of media. That makes about 30 years in which large numbers of people have been creating for the internet: information that is now used to train huge textual datasets like the language model behind ChatGPT.

I had a vision, really more of a sci-fi premise, about where this goes in another 30 years. It seems reasonable to assume that the next 30 years of the popular internet will involve more AI-generated media than the first. In the time between now and 2053, bots generate so much content that the media from the first, human era of the internet becomes impossibly obscure, far more rare than the handful of known cave paintings from the earliest Homo sapien pre-history. The bot era will a be derivative byproduct of the internet’s human era, but the bots have–for a while–kicked the ladder out from underneath them. The old human internet rots away under piles of bot trash. Humans still “produce content” (maybe–because it seems there is more at stake–they go back to calling it “writing” again), but even the most advanced search engines will be too overwhelmed to find it. The human data source for the bot era still exists, somewhere, online, but it goes darker than anything on the dark web today.

In 2053, an underground market springs up for the human stuff. Maybe it only exists by word of mouth, wherever humans are by this point. Maybe it’s in the last segment of the online world that has been cordoned off from bots. In the last library left, paper books offer a new assurance of security. The physical materials in the book can be tested, their provenance verified. Philology returns to its roots, goes back to being a set of methods for assuring the (human) authenticity of documents. Everyone on the planet–bots and humans–is hunting for that “data.” Bots because they need it to keep creating, humans because it reminds them.

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Tags ai