The closing of the canon

The overly simplistic, middle-school version of European history is that during the “dark ages”, the canon of knowledge was closed. Everything that needed to be known was already contained in the Bible and classical philosophers. And thus Europe was condemned to a millennium of stagnation in which no new knowledge was created or sought.

This is, of course, a vast oversimplification to the point of being outright wrong. But it’s useful as a fable.

I wonder if we’re not close to “closing the canon” now, if we’re not on the precipice of an era of deep intellectual stagnation.

Something that did got me thinking is What’s missing from the AI workflow: incentives for content creators to provide training data:

  • AI bots require training data to be effective. Content creators generate part of the training data source.
  • Content creators require ROI (e.g., recognition, attention, revenue) for the content they supply.
  • AI bots will need to provide ROI to content creators to sustain a long-term content source in the future.
  • Since backlinks to creator sites aren’t possible, content creators might create logins and paywalls for content access. In the best scenario, AI will force writers to raise their content to inimitable levels.

I went and had a look at some of the rather niche topics that I write about and are at or near the top of Google results. Lo and behold, I can get ChatGPT to spit out regurgitated forms of my blog posts. No citation. No backlink. Nothing.

On some level, I don’t care. I write primarily for myself as a way to organize my thoughts on topics I’m interested in. The fact that others find it useful or entertaining is a bonus.

But I don’t think this bodes well for the creation of new content. My guess is that we’re going to be stewing in online information written in the past five years for the next few decades.