Thoughts on the dead internet conspiracy theoryThe dead internet theory came up on Hacker News again today. For those not familiar, the idea is that everyone except for you (and of course me) on the internet is just bots farming engagment numbers.
I think one of the things that makes it so compelling is that it seems so unlikely and yet so possible. Most conspiracy theories can be clearly debunked because they either have no motive, or no way they could be accomplished.
The dead internet theory, on the other hand, has a motive. Of course advertises and hackers and bot creators want to automate mimicking human interaction.
The point that was made well on HN was that the dead internet theory seems so possible. So many people interact with the internet in such a formulaic way that it would be difficult to tell them from bots. It was referring to Google search results, but it's also true for conversations in many other places on the internet.
Obviously, this is still a conspiracy theory. It can be disproven by asking how likely it is. No, there are much more reasonable explanations.
But the point is that computer screens can be legitimately dehumanizing. The fact that I can't tell if you're a real person or not isn't a failure of human empathy, but a very real limitation of the medium and the technology.
If we never stop strangers on the sidewalk to say hi, how long before robotics technology progresses to the point where someone creates the "dead street theory" because it's impossible to tell if the figure walking past you is a real person, or just an android.