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The Encyclopedia Project, or How to Know in the Age of AI

[Janet Vertesi at Public Books]

"Our lives are consumed with the consumption of content, but we no longer know the truth when we see it. And when we don’t know how to weigh different truths, or to coordinate among different real-world experiences to look behind the veil, there is either cacophony or a single victor: a loudest voice that wins."

This is a piece about information, trust, the effect that AI is already having on knowledge.

When people said that books were more trustworthy than the internet, we scoffed; I scoffed. Books were not infallible; the stamp of a traditional publisher was not a sign that the information was correct or trustworthy. The web allowed more diverse voices to be heard. It allowed more people to share information. It was good.

The flood of automated content means that this is no longer the case. Our search engines can't be trusted; YouTube is certainly full of the worst automated dreck. I propose that we reclaim the phrase pink slime to encompass this nonsense: stuff that's been generated by a computer at scale in order to get attention.

So, yeah, I totally sympathize with the urge to buy a real-world encyclopedia again. Projects like Wikipedia must be preserved at all costs. But we have to consider if all this will result in the effective end of a web where humans publish and share information. And if that's the case, what's next?


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