Echoes of the dead internet theory: AI's silent takeover


According to Imperva's Bad Bot Report, In 2022, a jaw-dropping 47.4% of all internet traffic turned out to be bots. It feels like we're chatting and sharing in a bustling digital town square, but almost half the crowd is just...machines. This brings the infamous 'dead internet theory' out of the realm of conspiracy and into our daily online lives. It's unsettling to think that so much of our digital world is run by bots rather than humans. But we could already be talking to them without even realizing it.

Ever felt like you're endlessly debating with a stranger online, only to wonder if they're even real? The alarming reality is many of us are inadvertently squaring off with bots, not humans. What's more draining than clashing with an online troll? Wrestling words with a machine. So, before diving headfirst into another online spat, arm yourself with this knowledge and sidestep the unnecessary emotional drain.

Elon Musk famously stepped back from buying Twitter, hinting they weren't completely honest about how many of their 'users' were bots. An ex-CIA expert on bot traffic took it a step further by suggesting it's not far-fetched that 80% of Twitter accounts aren't real people. If this is what's happening on Twitter, what's lurking beneath the surface of other platforms?

We’re living in a world where Instagram influencers boast 40m followers, mostly made up of Russian bots, and virtual influencers can also be found raking in millions. Non-humans are also snatching up Taylor Swift concert tickets, making it feel like we're up against an ever-growing silent zombie horde of online bots.

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The dead internet theory: are bots and AI overwhelming genuine human voices?

The "dead internet theory" originally appeared as an online conspiracy theory suggesting that most online activity is driven no longer by genuine human interactions but by bots, AI, and algorithmically curated content. This theory reminisces about the early internet days when it was perceived as a hub of genuine human exchange and online communities.

However, as the web expanded, the influence of commercial interests allegedly supplanted this authenticity, leading proponents to believe that what once felt 'organic' has now been overshadowed by corporate and algorithm-driven content.

The conspiracy predictably begins with corporations and governments flooding the internet with bots and AI-generated content to push propaganda and gaslight the world to influence behavior and purchase more products. As with any good conspiracy theory, there are elements of truth mixed in with a few exaggerations. But the rise of AI and bot traffic gives the concept much more credence.

If you perform a Google Search for a stock phrase like "War," you’ll receive around 9.6 Billion results. But you can only browse through 15 pages of about 150 results. Results like this suggest that the internet might seem like an expansive forest, but it's often just a hall of mirrors, reflecting the same content in different forms.

Everything we see on our screens is increasingly being curated and aggregated by AI and algorithms created by a handful of corporations. From the music playlists on Spotify to the next binge-worthy boxset on Netflix, we are served more of what we have seen and heard. With the rise of fake reviews and unwillingness to explore beyond the recommendations, we have unwittingly killed serendipity and accidental organic discoveries of something outside our usual patterns.

Echoes of Poe: the digital descent into half-truths and deception

As we stand at the precipice of a new digital era, our infatuation with generative AI isn't just reshaping the landscape. It's set to dominate it. With each technological leap, distinguishing between human and AI-generated content is becoming increasingly challenging. Malicious bots controlled by nefarious individuals chip away at businesses, draining an average of 3.6% of their yearly revenue. Tragically, for the hardest-hit 25% of these enterprises, this translates to a staggering loss of no less than $250 million annually.

Historically, we've held auditory and visual recordings as bastions of truth, but what happens when algorithms can artfully and deceptively craft them? Even Europol has raised alarms about the overwhelming presence of AI in online content as we head into what feels like one of Edgar Allan Poe's macabre tales where everyone can only believe half of what they see and nothing of what they hear.

Although the internet is increasingly saturated with bots, scammers, and counterfeit profiles, many still perceive every online interaction as 'genuine.' But there is no avoiding the fact that the digital landscape is now littered with bots, disinformation tactics, echo chambers, deep fakes, fabricated accounts, and algorithms designed with inherent biases. Although content remains king, context remains everything.

Five years ago, the 'dead internet theory' was brushed off as a mere conspiracy. But the overwhelming tide of AI and bots could transform this myth into our sobering reality if bots continue to generate the content we consume. If we continue hurtling down this path, a day might come when we'll ruefully recall how we missed the warning signs and yearn for the authenticity that once was. But hopefully, we can avoid the curse of living out the rest of our days in a digital echo chamber where everything feels fake.


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