June 30, 2023 With the Rise of Generative AI, How to Approach the Changing Web

Executive Fellow
Kazuhito Kidachi

Many experts agree that the Earth is not necessarily the only celestial body in the vastness of the universe where intelligent life exists. Why is it, then, that to date we’ve never received any signals from such supposedly intelligent life beyond our home planet?

One of the reasons mentioned is the “dark forest” theory. Its basic premise is that if we were to reveal our location whilst in a dark forest, we would immediately be attacked by more powerful predators. Thus, if the universe can be compared to a dark forest, the only way to survive is to hide .......

True or false, it is a very interesting theory. Related to this, I recently watched a presentation that applies the “dark forest” theory to the web. The talk, titled “The Expanding Dark Forest and Generative AI,” was given by Maggie Appleton in April of this year.

The Expanding Dark Forest and Generative AI - Maggie Appleton

A transcript is available on Appleton's website. However, for those who wish to read the content in Japanese, I would like to refer you to WirelessWire News’ article titled “Generative AI as a New Companion to Make the Web an Increasingly Dark Forest and Augment Human Capabilities” that brought the talk to my attention.

The original idea seems to date back to Yancey Strickler's 2019 book “The Dark Forest Theory of the Internet”. Appleton argues that the web today is full of impersonal, low-quality content, and that it is too dangerous a place (where users are vulnerable to criticism and becoming the targets of an online lynch mobs) to share ideas and content etc.

Unfortunately, in light of my personal experiences, I must admit that there are aspects of the web that resemble a “dark forest”. In her talk, Appleton discusses the possibility that, with the rise of generative AI, this “dark forest” will grow even larger in the future.

So, what if the web does become increasingly like a “dark forest,” a place where people are unwilling or unable to communicate with each other? Well, I must say that it would be extremely regrettable - even without considering my personal position as someone who has made a living in the web industry for more than a quarter of a century.

However, I remain optimistic about the future. If I weren’t, I wouldn't have been able to compose my Column titled “Generative AI: An Opportunity, Not a Threat.” Certainly, some content produced using generative AI is posing real challenges (e.g., MIT Tech Review: Junk websites filled with AI-generated text are pulling in money from programmatic ads) but I believe we will find ways to overcome them.

In her talk, Appleton predicts a future in which a filtered web will become the default. Even before the focus on generative AI, the web has always been a mixed bag, with hoaxes, misinformation, fake news, etc. becoming a problem. Whether we like it or not, it appears that we are already well on our way to moving away from the “natural” web, and toward the direction that Appleton predicted.

Needless to say, which specifically designed filters should be placed on which layers requires the utmost levels of care and attention. However, since no one (perhaps even nation states) can halt the rise of generative AI, in parallel, we will also need to evolve in the ways we interact with the web.

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