An abstract figure made of puzzle pieces stands at the precipice of a cliff, gazing out over a fragmented digital landscape. This landscape is scattered with floating islands, each carrying bits of digital content, code, and chatbots. The islands vary in vitality, some lush with digital flora and others barren, reflecting the diverse fates of content creators in an AI-dominated environment. Overhead, the sky is a canvas of transitioning patterns, from ordered data structures to a tumultuous binary code storm, portraying the uncertain future of the web.

Withering words from the consistently-excellent auteur of internet culture, Ryan Broderick. I’m a fan of the Arc browser, but I fear they’ve got to a point, like many companies, where they’re stuffing in AI features just for the sake of it.

As Broderick wonders, the creeping inclusion of AI in products isn’t like web3 (or even VR) as it can be introduced in a way that leads to “an inescapable layer of hallucinating AI in between us and everyone else online”. It’s hard not to be concerned.

The Browser Company’s new app lets you ask semantic questions to a chatbot, which then summarizes live internet results in a simulation of a conversation. Which is great, in theory, as long as you don’t have any concerns about whether what it’s saying is accurate, don’t care where that information is coming from or who wrote it, and don’t think through the long-term feasibility of a product like this even a little bit.

But the base logic of something like Arc’s AI search doesn’t even really make sense. As Engadget recently asked in their excellent teardown of Arc’s AI search pivot, “Who makes money when AI reads the internet for us?” But let’s take a step even further here. Why even bother making new websites if no one’s going to see them? At least with the Web3 hype cycle, there were vague platitudes about ownership and financial freedom for content creators. To even entertain the idea of building AI-powered search engines means, in some sense, that you are comfortable with eventually being the reason those creators no longer exist. It is an undeniably apocalyptic project, but not just for the web as we know it, but also your own product. Unless you plan on subsidizing an entire internet’s worth of constantly new content with the revenue from your AI chatbot, the information it’s spitting out will get worse as people stop contributing to the network.

And making matters worse, if you’re hoping to prevent the eventual death of search, there won’t be a before and after moment where suddenly AI replaces our existing search engines. We’ve already seen how AI development works. It slowly optimizes itself in drips and drops, subtly worming its way into our various widgets and windows. Which means it’s likely we’re already living in the world of AI search and we just don’t fully grasp how pervasive it is yet.

Which means it’s not about saving the web we had, but trying to steer our AI future in the direction we want. Unless, like the Web3 bust, we’re about to watch this entire industry go over a cliff this year. Possible, but unlikely.

The only hope here is that consumers just don’t like these products. And even then, we have to hope that the companies rolling them out even care if we like them or not. Of course, once there’s an inescapable layer of hallucinating AI in between us and everyone else online, you have to wonder if anyone will even notice.

Source: Garbage Day

Image: DALL-E 3