Binary Whispers

Greg Bardakhanov

The internet, as we know it, is dying.

Soon, the internet we all hold dear will be no more. And the only obituary you'll be able to read online for free will be AI-generated.

I think that the internet of the future won't be one unified entity; it will consist of two parts. The first part will be your inbox and the apps — the places where you're able to talk to real humans.

The second part will be AI-generated content. This is the part the dead internet theory tells you about. The primordial soup of AI crap and bot activity. Maybe AGI will appear there? Who knows.

This great divide started a while ago with the fall of RSS and the advent of big hubs. Big hubs like Facebook, Google, Amazon, Instagram, etc., captured people's minds and put content behind their walls. Instead of interconnected knowledge and network, the internet started turning into an old broadcast TV, where you have three or four main channels you have to tune into, and that's it. After that, people moved on to walled messenger apps for one reason or another; it doesn't matter. More and more important conversations and content started happening in there instead of old-school forums. Yes, the content on Facebook, Instagram, Telegram, WhatsApp, etc., is online. But can you still say that it's on the internet? I'm not so sure.

With the appearance of generative AI, it's gotten only worse. The generative AI is the King Midas of our days. Everything it touches – text, voice, images – turns into gold for shareholders, but in the grand scheme of things, it's a curse. Take this story from 404Media, for example:

In December, we noticed that articles we spent significant amounts of time on—reporting that involved weeks or months of research, talking to and protecting sources, filing public records requests, paying for and parsing those records, hours or days of writing, editing, and packaging—were being scraped by bots, run through an AI article “spinner” or paraphraser, and republished on random websites. — Source

I'll be following the copyright stories about OpenAI and Google with great interest, but let's not pretend that big corporations are our friends. What I don't understand here are the individual entrepreneurs trying to make a quick buck out of it. They're like cheaters in an online game — trying to get a quick dose of dopamine while simultaneously ruining the great thing and community.

Your voice is not safe in the AI world either. Here are the latest stories from the US, but I'm pretty sure there are many more around the world:

Two, generative AI tools are responsible for a new category of electioneering and fraud. This month synthetic voices were used to deceive in the New Hampshire primary and Harlem politics. And the Financial Times reported that the technology is increasingly used in scams and bank fraud. — Source

When it comes to images, there have been a ton of war fakes on Twitter or Telegram. Since an increasing number of people don't check the authenticity of images or videos these days, it's likely to escalate. Then, there's porn:

Sexually explicit AI-generated images of Taylor Swift have been circulating on X (formerly Twitter) over the last day in the latest example of the proliferation of AI-generated fake pornography and the challenge of stopping it from spreading. One of the most prominent examples on X attracted more than 45 million views, 24,000 reposts, and hundreds of thousands of likes and bookmarks before the verified user who shared the images had their account suspended for violating platform policy. The post was live on the platform for around 17 hours prior to its removal. — Source

I don't know if regulation or people uniting is the answer to all these human-generated problems, but I was curious to know about Nightshade. Nightshade is a tool that helps artists alter the images they upload online. If those images are then used for training image-generating AI, it could cause serious damage to that model:

The tool, called Nightshade, is intended as a way to fight back against AI companies that use artists’ work to train their models without the creator’s permission. Using it to “poison” this training data could damage future iterations of image-generating AI models, such as DALL-E, Midjourney, and Stable Diffusion, by rendering some of their outputs useless—dogs become cats, cars become cows, and so forth. — Source

I think this is incredibly cool and creative, making you feel like you're living in the cyberpunk future you've always read about. The idea that you can “poison” data is fascinating.

Yes, the internet as we know it is fading away. Valuable content is increasingly hidden behind closed doors, whether it's a paid newsletter, a Discord or Slack community, or a simple paywall. Navigating through the maze of content farms and marketing websites is becoming increasingly challenging, and it's scientifically proven that the quality of Google search results is on the decline. This is why more people are turning to Perplexity, which leverages the very same AI models to conduct searches and provide summaries with references.

And this isn't even mentioning the efforts by several governments around the world to segregate their internet spaces from the global internet.

I don't know if the new internet is good or bad thing, but I can definitely say that I miss the old one. You can say it's nostalgia speaking, but today I'm sure that the rise of the machines won't look like it did in Terminator. There won't be a menacing Skynet or some external intelligence orchestrating it all — instead, we'll willingly give away our control.

So, be part of the resistance. Support the human internet.

The start of 2024 is devastating, with a round of layoffs across all industries – gaming, journalism, tech. For me, this life-changing event happened at the end of 2023.

I must say, job searching is a soul-crushing process right now. The market is unhealthy, and you spend crazy amounts of time on initial applications. Some employers are even asking for personality tests, WPM scores, or even pre-recorded Looms. They want to know if I'm able to type after more than 10 years in tech and customer support. God knows why they need a Loom. Plus, as a jobless person, you're on borrowed time – the money isn't infinite. It's no surprise you feel down most of the time, especially after receiving yet another rejection email. It makes you question your worth.

Then, I read the news and think about these people:

Bobby Kotick, the former CEO of Activision Blizzard. Received more than $375 million in compensation following Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision Blizzard. Three months later:

Microsoft is laying off 1,900 employees at Activision Blizzard and Xbox this week. While Microsoft is primarily laying off roles at Activision Blizzard, some Xbox and ZeniMax employees will also be impacted by the cuts.Source

Elon Musk, the world's wealthiest person (!) and the head of 6 companies, including X, Tesla, and SpaceX:

X is officially worth less than half of what Elon Musk paid for it. A year after he bought Twitter for $44 billion, Musk thinks the company is now worth $19 billion, a 55 percent drop.Source

Tesla shares plummeted more than 10 percent Thursday, wiping billions off the company’s valuation after CEO Elon Musk failed to allay concerns about stagnating growth and persistent price cuts on the company’s earnings call.Source

Elon Musk Has Used Illegal Drugs, Worrying Leaders at Tesla and SpaceX. Some executives and board members fear the billionaire’s use of drugs—including LSD, cocaine, ecstasy, mushrooms and ketamine—could harm his companies.Source

Donald Trump, a former president (!) of the USA, is currently a candidate in the 2024 Republican presidential primaries. Indicted on 91 (!) felony charges:

The jury found Mr. Trump inserted his fingers into her v*gina. Ms. Carroll did not make up her claim. Mr. Trump's June 11 & June 22 statements were defamatory. Now, Mr. Trump may not make any argument against this.Source

If Bobby, Elon, and Donald are qualified enough to do what they do, then you surely are qualified too. So, the next time you feel an impostor syndrome, don't.

Keep pushing. We all need just a little bit of luck in this life.

And maybe just a pinch of nepotism.

People in the tech and software world are already accustomed to subscription-based apps and services. We even have a special term for it: Software-as-a-Service, or SaaS. But, looking at it from a wider angle, you could say that these days, everything operates on a subscription model.

Rent? That's a subscription for a place to sleep. Utility Bills? Subscription. Gym Membership? Streaming Services? Car leases? Subscription. Subscription. Subscription.

With the advent of gaming services like Xbox Game Pass and PlayStation Now, you now also pay a subscription fee to access a variety of video games every month. Ubisoft is really keen on that idea and says the quiet part out loud:

One of the things we saw is that gamers are used to, a little bit like DVD, having and owning their games. That’s the consumer shift that needs to happen. They got comfortable not owning their CD collection or DVD collection. That’s a transformation that’s been a bit slower to happen [in games]. As gamers grow comfortable in that aspect… you don’t lose your progress. If you resume your game at another time, your progress file is still there. That’s not been deleted. You don’t lose what you’ve built in the game or your engagement with the game. So it’s about feeling comfortable with not owning your game.

— Philippe Tremblay, director of subscriptions @ Ubisoft

Gaming services and other subscriptions are undoubtedly convenient – they eliminate the need for large upfront payments, and you can cancel them when they're no longer needed. Well, rent is a little more complicated, as you have to live somewhere, duh. But there's an ugly side to this convenience.

If everything is a subscription, you end up owning nothing. The latest move from PlayStation proves that – they plan to remove digital content from your library – even if you've paid for it:

Due to our content licensing arrangements, you will no longer be able to watch any of your purchased Discovery content.

This is a concerning trend, and I'm pretty sure there must be a dystopian novel exploring this topic. The one where your parents start paying a life subscription fee when you're born, and you inherit those payments when you're 18 or something. Everything is produced and owned by big corporations and you float in that ocean of content until you die.

But that's why it's called a dystopia. I don't want people to become the sum of only their subscriptions. I think privacy is closely connected to this trend of data ownership and subscriptions. If you own nothing in this world, do you even have your own place? Do you have anything private?

The ending of “Leave the World Behind” beautifully demonstrates the importance of owning data, having a private place, and being offline. Anyone who says otherwise is wrong.

I left a lot behind when I left Russia in 2022, but the idealist in me still wants to leave something after myself, and I don’t want it to be only the subscription accounts, a mortgage, and a leased car.

P. S. Libraries are also a subscription, but that's a good one. I have nothing against libraries.

Growing up in the '90s, comic books were my jam. I wasn’t a dedicated fan of Marvel or DC – hell, I didn’t even know those things existed – I just devoured anything I could get my hands on, from Archie to Elf Quest, from Duck Tales to Indiana Jones, from Bamse to Tom & Jerry.

Yet, standing tall among them all were the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. There was a magic about this franchise, a term I was unfamiliar with back then, that still captivates me nearly 30 years later.

My memories are full with endless hours on our Dendy, an unofficial clone of Nintendo's Famicom, battling foes in the TMNT video game. The 1990 TMNT movie? It was my personal staple, replayed countless times on our VHS.

I'm convinced that my introduction to pizza came from those four turtles. I didn't even think that pizza was Italian, all I yearned for is that iconic New York slice I saw in the comics. The craving was real, but in my small hometown, such a delicacy was out of reach. Domino's delivery? That was a distant dream. Today, Domino's is a distant dream in Russia again, albeit for entirely different reasons.

The new TMNT movie was a visual spectacle, true to its trailer's promise, and I loved the authentic portrayal of the turtles as actual teenagers. Yet, while the absence of Shredder was evident, another aspect irked me: the barrage of modern pop culture references. Batman? A Chris Evans' cardboard cutout? Forza Horizon? BTS?

I get the intent – showcasing that Donatello, Michelangelo, Leonardo, and Raphael are all immersed in our contemporary culture. But it felt dissonant, and I couldn't shake that feeling (pretty sure there's a word for it in German). Perhaps it's because I always imagined them in a world separate from mine, or maybe there's another reason I can't quite pinpoint.

Look, I'm all for franchise reboots. I can't wait to share the next iteration of TMNT and other cinematic adventures with my future child. But perhaps these stories could be richer if they weren't so reliant on fleeting pop culture references. After all, mere name- and meme-dropping doesn't equate to humor or character depth.

I joined Twitter in April 2009, and it's been my favourite “social network” since then. Over the years, I've followed smart people, meticulously curated my feed, and was quite happy with it.

That is until Twitter started fiddling with my chronological feed, adding ads, and turning itself into a walled garden. In addition, they killed off Vine and lost the betting war for Instagram. What a world it would be if Twitter had acquired Instagram, not Facebook! Men can dream.

In our cursed timeline, the current state of Twitter is quite sad, honestly. When people describe Twitter's reputation, they often say words like “cesspool”, “toxic”, “racism”, “misinformation” — I can't remember them all, but you got the idea.

Using an official Twitter client is a challenge — the constant stream of non-relevant ads, features nobody cares about (Spaces? Circles? Communities?), and sex bots in my DMs make me question the sanity of the people responsible for their core product. Do they even use Twitter themselves?

That's why I'm surprised by this recent trend where people say they are quitting Twitter because Elon Musk took over. So you didn't leave because of the above, but now you are quitting? Really? Listen, I don't have high hopes for or high expectations from Elon Musk, but it can't get much worse than it is. For example, it takes 6 steps and 6 different screens (!) to report a tweet or an account now. It's crazy.

A quote from Sergei Dovlatov, a Soviet dissident writer, comes to mind when I hear those people:

“We endlessly curse Comrade Stalin, and, of course, for the cause. And yet, I want to ask — who wrote the four million denunciations?”

So yeah, we endlessly curse Elon Musk, and rightfully so. And yet, I want to ask — who writes all these toxic or misinforming comments there? Or do you really think that Twitter was that great under the previous management?

Maybe, just maybe, this is what Twitter needs right now — a major shakeup that will change things. If it changes things for the better and brings Vine back, it will be fantastic. If it changes things for the worse, well, personally, I won't see a big difference.

When I was around 10 years old, my father bought us our first computer. It was hard to imagine how it would affect my life then.

The computer itself could have impressed me more. I wasn't inspired by all the possibilities of the MS-DOS and didn't want to learn any programming languages. There was another thing that came later that consumed me completely. That thing was called Windows.

Just kidding. It was the Internet.

The World Wide Web allowed us all to become a part of something bigger, to participate in the conversations we would never have had without it. And it was particularly important to me, a person born in a small town in the middle of nowhere.

Fast-forward to 2012-2013, I'm on my daily commute to my first customer support job in Saint-Petersburg, reading about the fascinating concepts of remote work in “Remote” and “Rework” books. I also just installed 1Password 4 on my work computer and couldn't wait to organize my passwords there. That computer in the late 90s did turn me into a geek, after all.

Could I entertain the idea of working for 1Password and 37signals back then? No, of course not. However, the Internet made it all possible. It was Twitter, where I saw a job listing retweeted by Dave. It was a newsletter where I found out about David and Jason. It was the Internet that connected me to the rest of the world.

That's why it saddens me to see the ongoing balkanization of the Internet. To paraphrase Obi-Wan, one of the greatest philosophers of our time, “the Internet was supposed to be the Chosen One. It was said that it would unite the world, not divide it.”

We are all left in the darkness without any balance. But at least we have memes now, right?