It’s about to get very noisy

The internet is about to get a lot noisier, thanks to the rise of Large Language Models (LLMs) like GPT.

An illustration of a Robot Monkeys typing on typewriters

The Creators of The Internet

40 million people sounds like a lot of people. It’s roughly the population of Canada. And in 1995, it was the population of the entire internet. But today, today the population of the internet is about 5.2 billion. That is quite a lot more people. Most of those people are consumers. They use the internet without adding anything to it; this is fine, it is good in fact. They watch Netflix, chat on WhatsApp and scroll on TikTok. They might tweet on Twitter but, since the great Elon-ification of that place, it appears that even fewer of them are even doing that. These people used to be called ‘lurkers’ on forums. What they aren’t doing is creating websites or trying to get you to buy something or writing blogs like this one. For our purposes we can say that these people are being very quiet indeed.

But then there are a much smaller group of people who, like me, see the internet as the place that they can make a bit of noise and generally conduct some form of creativity, be it in running a business or creating reels for consumers to scroll or cobbling their thoughts into a 1000 word article. This is also a good thing - consumers can’t consume if no one is creating stuff for them to consume.

Signal vs Noise

Most of the stuff that is being created is pretty average; it’s just background noise, a light hum. A few people might consume it, but it’s receiving 27 likes on Instagram and isn’t really getting in anyone’s way. It’s the background music that plays in shops and hotel lobbies that fills the uncomfortable silence. Always there, but quite pleasant and you’d probably miss it if it wasn’t there.

Then we have the good stuff - these are the pieces that go viral: the think piece that nails a topic so absolutely, the tiktok that gets a bajillion views, the hot take that turns out to be absolute fire, the stack overflow answer that comes like an angel of the night to salve your programming pain. This is the sweet melody of signal. We like signal, and we spend most of our consuming time wading through the mire of noise looking for it. Sure the background noise is a bit irritating, but it’s relatively easy to find the good stuff once you know where and how to look for it. Google is pretty good at finding what we want. We’ve built aggregators like reddit or hacker news, where people can come and say “Hey everyone! Look, I found some gold!” and then other people can upvote it if it’s actually gold, or downvote it to oblivion if it’s not actually good.

All of this seems sort of fine. Every year more noise is created, but so too is signal. The good thing about this is that an individual creator could only create so much noise. Automated content was pretty obviously automated content, and even if Google didn’t manage to filter it out for you first, once you started reading it, it was pretty clear that no human had set eyes on it during the creation process. We become quickly attuned to that particular lack of harmony and click the back button, which also signalled to Google that the content wasn’t actually helpful, meaning the next person searching for that particular query would be less likely to end up seeing that page.

The problem we’re facing now though, is that creators have been given a whole new kind of instrument to play. It’s not that this instrument is louder or more dominant that the others, it’s that it can create an almost infinite amount of songs with barely any human input at all. And they all sound pretty great. LLMs are really good at creating noise. It’s not just that they can create an ungodly amount of content (basically for free) but differentiating that content from human generated content is, by design, almost impossible. Where a content creator could once have put out a few decent quality articles a day, they can now put out thousands. The ratio of noise to signal is about to dramatically shift.

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