The AtlanticThe Atlantic

Prepare for the Textpocalypse

By Matthew Kirschenbaum

08 Mar 2023 · 7 min read

Editor's Note

"We face, in essence, a crisis of never-ending spam." An essay in The Atlantic on how AI will cause our relationship to writing to forever change.

What if, in the end, we are done in not by intercontinental ballistic missiles or climate change, not by microscopic pathogens or a mountain-size meteor, but by … text? Simple, plain, unadorned text, but in quantities so immense as to be all but unimaginable—a tsunami of text swept into a self-perpetuating cataract of content that makes it functionally impossible to reliably communicate in any digital setting?

Our relationship to the written word is fundamentally changing. So-called generative artificial intelligence has gone mainstream through programs like ChatGPT, which use large language models, or LLMs, to statistically predict the next letter or word in a sequence, yielding sentences and paragraphs that mimic the content of whatever documents they are trained on. They have brought something like autocomplete to the entirety of the internet. For now, people are still typing the actual prompts for these programs and, likewise, the models are still (mostly) trained on human prose instead of their own machine-made opuses.

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