AI Internet Takeover: What does it really mean?

 In the past year, AI generation has come to the forefront of the public's attention. It first came to my attention when listening to an art podcast where they brought up Midjourney and frequently discussed its implications and followed its progression and other sprouting AI offerings. Artists were enraged by duplicitous online artwork made in their styles and appalled to realize their art was no longer only being knocked off for a quick profit by cheap online POD merch stores, but now also by apparently anyone who wanted to.

Now artists are not only losing rightful income due to copyright infringement, they are at high risk of artistic identity theft. The current climate of visual artists for hire depends on projecting a style, a self-image, online via social media. The danger of that style, that self-identity, being hijacked by anyone who could then possibly compete with the actual artist online or in the market is more than a little unsettling. It is terrifying to artists of all stages because, at the end of the day, style is as large a part of their artistic identity as your face is a part of your identity. 

Imagine going to a job interview and finding yourself face to face with someone wearing your face, masquerading as you in all but name. And they claim to be better at being you than you are, for less!

AI threatens the commercial arts and commercial artists most visibly because the more they work, the more AI can absorb and create duplicitous work, probably good enough for penny-pinching executives who are primarily concerned with keeping people engaged and keeping profits high. There has always been the threat of copycats in the arts--truly all art is a remix of what came before, and anything with commercial success is sure to be 'ripped off' by the competition in a hurry--but the threat of AI scraping and imitation is on such a bigger scale and reaches each profile on each platform across almost the whole internet. In the AI age, it seems that simply by participating in the work pool or trying to create a presence online you are inadvertently agreeing to be AI training material. Until you become obsolete?

But it's just artist profiles and platforms that are being targeted... right? 

Well, no. With recent launches of Google AI assistant and Meta AI, the Sauron-like-eye of AI scraping is fixed on regular user posts, photos, writing, and all data. These tech tycoons are determined to use every scrap of data at their disposal for their gain. And at the end of the day, it is their data, data each user gives them in exchange for the 'free' use of the platform. (You and I thought we were paying for the free platform by being flooded with tailored ads, but apparently, they just can't say no to using all that free data a whole lot more!) And for a lot of people, it feels pretty weird... Like whyyyy? The exact data they mine and what they use it for is not specified, quite vague, and rather shady. 

What makes it more uncomfy is the incredible reach of these two mega-corporations (I would go as far as to say tech monopolies). Meta has Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Threads, and a bucket more social media platforms--virtually every mode of social connection is owned by Meta. Google (Alphabet) has the Google search engine, Chrome, Gmail and the other Workspace apps (Drive, Photos, Meet, Contacts, Blogger), YouTube, Fitbit, Android, Nest, and who knows what else. Between these two corporations lies basically everything I think about as being the internet. And both have expressed intent (and have already begun) to use the data at their disposal to train their AI assistants.

But why is this happening and what does it mean?

Since the advent of the internet, its superpower has been connection. It has made the world a much smaller place by enabling people on opposite sides of the world to work together easily, collaborate constantly, and share ideas and experiences with many more people than ever would have been possible before. From emails, forums, and chatrooms, to social media like Facebook, Twitter (X), and Instagram, people come to the internet to share, connect, and be heard..... BY OTHER PEOPLE. 

But now, more than ever, the user end goal is far from the thoughts and intents of those who steer the virtual world. It turns out the internet is just too powerful as a marketing and sales platform, and really enabling person-to-person connection is not lucrative enough in the face of product sales. There has always been a negative side to the internet, some examples include the extreme increase in consumer culture, including FOMO, the enabling of destructive addictions, and the famous hotbed of complaining, criticizing, and contention (the comment section). But as time has gone on these sad indicators of micro to macro transactions and hot web traffic have been 'selectively bred for' over and over by greed (otherwise called the bottom line) and tirelessly cultivated by anonymity. 

In the last generation of the internet's selective breeding, platforms began to prefer high-traffic posts instead of user-to-user connection, funny videos, and thirst traps instead of personal insights and reflection. That is because their focus is to keep you on their turf for as long as possible, not to help you satisfy your inbuilt need for interpersonal connection. It has been obvious for a long time that they watch what we do, as evidenced by the tailored ads and suggested content, but for many the slight yuck was a tolerable price for the connection they enjoyed with their friends and communities, both virtual and IRL. But will the new price be worth it? 

Now that these corporations are shamelessly advertising their use of our real thoughts and efforts to create fake tailored content--anything we might want whenever we might want it--to keep us engaged in their market space? And they hope to frame it as a service? In other terms, for the small price of the complete detailed information about everything we and our children do, search, or share (if we let them use the internet), they will let us watch ads and destructive content, spend money, AND connect with content that was once made by people, but now it is presented to us chopped up and recombined by an algorithm... and maybe if we are lucky we might be able to find a real human to connect with.

So if this is the world we are facing, the real question is: DO WE CARE? or better, What Do We Care About?

To be fair, social media and the internet have never been a good source of interpersonal connection. Social media specifically has always been destructive (especially to teens) because it twists our need to connect with people and pretends to satisfy it, but leaves us empty. Also, much of the content people post online is already filtered and mostly fake, and tends to make individuals depressed and anxious. It has been addictive and unhealthy for a long time. Also, many people are glad for tailored ads and welcome the 'personal shopper' vibe that the internet provides by showing them what they want before they even knew they wanted it (at a steal too!) As a cheapskate myself I know when I hit the "consent to terms and conditions" checkmark I am giving up my personal information for a free product or service and I wouldn't buy the paid version if they offered it. I do it partially because I know I don't have much value. I don't do much online, I don't spend much money period,  I don't have anything significant that I need their help with, and I know they can't get me to do anything I wasn't planning on doing anyway. I know that they can't use me or coerce me in any significant way because I know who I am (a daughter of God), I know what I believe (God will never guide me amiss), and I know how the world works (in the end everything is God's). 

I think every person has to examine their life, look inside their heart, and ask their conscience what it is they really care about. 

Do you really need the internet? What do you do on the internet and what do you need to do? (make a list)  If you were to stop using the internet entirely, how could you replace its many functions? (write a replacement next to every item on your list) Based on this exercise, how much do you really need the internet? (How many functions can be replaced or discarded) How instantaneously do you really need to be able to access the internet?

I think it becomes apparent that in the modern world, the interconnectivity and convenience of the internet and its services have become a requirement, although some can get by (like my grandma) with help from others (booking flights online has become a must). However, the more 'in-the-loop' you need to be, the more dependent on the internet (and instant internet connection) you become. Many of us could choose to be less dependent on the internet and its virtual world by spending more time in the real world, experiencing things for ourselves (instead of watching other people experience them).

If you are really bugged to think that the big tech monopolies are scraping your data, you can choose to abstain by not using their platforms. you can abstain completely by not using the internet. This is unlikely to be possible for the majority of people, but you always have a choice to try alternative browsers and search engines, use hard copies of media (ownership vs subscription), buy things from stores instead of online, do something yourself (and mess up a few times) instead of watching so much YouTube. 

What really bugs me is the effect of the internet on children, teens, and people who do not yet know who they are, what they believe, and how the world works. This is one of those side effects of the internet focusing on what is lucrative, pushing ads, and making destructive content easily accessible. It is a side effect of all the fakeness and lies on social media that confuse developing minds and harm them with harmful and false ideas about themselves, others, and the world. but most of all it is a result of too much access and not enough supervision by discerning adults. I don't know how much more harmful the internet can get to this demographic with the scraping of all online data and the creation of algorithmic assistants and generated content. I know that we can't trust it to be safe for us or our children, we need to impose our own safety structures in our personal internet consumption.

I suppose when I need more from the internet's intrapersonal connection powers I will care more that people cannot find my artwork, writing, blog, or books. For now, I am content to scream into the chaos because I am not trying to be heard by the world. I want to leave a record of my thoughts, ideas, what I learn, and what I experience in my days for my daughters and sons and their daughters and sons, and whoever's daughter or son finds this and might benefit from the thoughts and experience of someone who lived in another time and in another place, but was still so much the same.

The masses don't matter to me so much as the special people who touch my life, seen and unseen. I know they are each children of God on their own journey, I know you are a child of God. So what Google does with the information and writing of this blogger post doesn't matter to me as long as I can leave that record that can be accessed by other people.


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