I think much of contemporary AI and Internet criticism fits into three categories, two of which are based on short stories by Luis Borges.
Full Show Notes: https://www.thejaymo.net/2023/08/20/301-2328-the-book-of-silicon/
Permanently moved is a personal podcast 301 seconds in length, written and recorded by @thejaymo
The Book of Silicon
I think much of contemporary AI and Internet criticism fits into three categories, two of which I based on short stories by Luis Borges – both are about the fear of endless media.
The Book of Sand
The first story is called The Book of Sand
Library of Babel
The other Borges story about the horror of infinite media is called Library of Babel.
The Infinite Library is a fitting metaphor for Machine Learning Models. These models have complex data structures filled with vast amounts of compressed information. Just as it’s challenging to find meaning in the Library, extracting useful information from these models can be tough. Unlike the library, LLMs are curated. First, weights constrain the model’s potential outputs. Second, specific prompts guide the retrieval of information. Both refine the vast possibilities of the model by altering the hyper dimensional structure of latent space.
It’s common to see LLMs dismissed as only predicting the next word. But what the next word is depends on where you are in the model. Make a move from one place to another in latent space and you’ll get a different set of next words.
The idea that we prompt an AI model and wander around its hyper library breaks down however when you realise that a LLM is both the library and the books.
If the Library of Babel reflects LLMs internal mechanics, then the Book of Sand represents concerns over their influence in the real world.
It’s the worry that we risk an internet full of endless nonsense and impossible images. Link farms and SEO-bait pages already already rife with gibberish, are now further summarised by AI algorithms that rank them at the top of search results. It’s as if we’re watching the Book of Sand burn in real-time, filled with the endless smoke of the burning Book of Sands pages. Perhaps in a few years it will be difficult to see the leaves for the forest.
What is happening?!
My third category diverges from AI.
Instead it addresses my own almost Lovecraftian horror of social media. Setting aside machine-generated content, social media’s algorithms have for the past decade prompted us to combine and recombine in mostly meaningless ways the outputs of creative lives, emotions, and thoughts. This relentless cycle of content creation mirrors apprehensions surrounding LLM output.
We aren’t librarians wandering Borges’ infinite hexagonal chambers but its scribes. The machine has been prompting us to answer the question: What is happening?! in its vertical rooms called feed for a decade.
Next time you read a piece on AI, ask yourself is this an Infinite Library piece, about the Book of Sand or a What is Happening story.