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Generative A.I. will Augment Technological Loneliness
What social media started, Generative A.I. will warp another stage further.
This is a rare Sunday edition. I usually make it a point to not bother my readers on a Sunday. It’s now Tuesday.
This past weekend I was having some weird thoughts, and I feel compelled to share it with you. I don’t often write Op-Eds, it’s not that I don’t think about these things.
My paid rate is going up from $8 to $10 a month, get it so you can grandmother the cheaper price.
I do not know how to say it, but if social media induced technological loneliness, more anxiety, increased mental health issues, and less human bonding for young people growing up with mobile, I fear for what Generative A.I. will do to us?
Loneliness has emerged as a significant health threat. And new research finds that the number and frequency of social contacts in healthy older adults is linked to brain volume. That is, loneliness literally shrinks your brain.
On social media, app incentives turn people into more robot like actors desperate for dopamine rewards that are a poor replication and shadow hallucination of real human connection. Much in the way LLMs plagiarize-blend art or writing, chatbots “replicate” a sense of empathy, of being heard, and a sense of dialogue that some of us lack in our real lives even at chronic levels for increasingly prolonged periods. It’s unbearably inhumane. But can you clone human intimacy? And if you can, is it desirable for the human condition and for people to interact with said clones? Before ChatGPT was released, there should have been a choice, an opt-in, a decision made by democracies.
I believe loneliness is a real epidemic in society since the inauguration of the internet, and I also think it’s progressively been getting worse. ChatGPT, Pi, Claude and any variety of A.I. are not the answers. Young teenagers growing up on products like Snap’s My AI, won’t lead to great outcomes. At least not in terms of well-being, mental health and the acquisition of skills that uplift their lives filled with community.
Chatbots that prey on our lack of human intimacy caused by the same corporations that want to harvest and sell our data for profit while serving us Ads, could unsurprisingly, become very toxic for the human condition. The lack of consent is striking at scale. It’s the ‘human interface’ that requires the most regulation. It’s the ‘bad actors’, not the Generative A.I. itself. Having the bad actors themselves involved in regulating A.I. of course makes little sense. They have their commercial interests to protect, first and foremost and not the well-being of their users.
Loneliness research is finding a shocking reality: People with the fewest social contacts have smaller brains, while people who had the most connections had larger ones. Specifically, the temporal lobe, occipital lobe, cingulum, hippocampus and amygdala were smaller in people who had less social interaction, according to a study published last month in the journal Neurology.
The crisis of loneliness poses as grave a threat to public health as obesity or substance abuse, that fact that we’ve realized rather late in our exploration of the internet isn’t exactly a coincidence. The consequences of digital dopamine loops can be fatal. It’s so dangerous, China wants to limit screen time for kids to just 2-hours.
But I think it’s not fully understood, recognized or even debated fully that Generative A.I. will instantly makes technological loneliness, a crisis of epic proportions! LLMs will make products, whether it’s apps or games, a lot more sticky. I’m going to try to make a case for how I see this happening. More time spent online, more time spent alone, more young people living alone - is not a trend that ends well. The infinite scroll is tearing lives apart, one hour of digital time lost forever, one penny for your loneliness.
Digital play, gaming, minecraft, roblox or YouTube binging is not a substitute for social play for the young forming brain. Trapping children in dopamine-loops in the digital world does not prepare them for the real world. GenZ who are graduating into the labor force in the early 2020s often now are lacking basic office, social and etiquette skills that we used to take for granted. Employers are so concerned they are even giving them more training.
The Rise of Synthetic Friendship and the Next Big Immersive Platform
The experiment ushered in by social media, apps, gaming and now Chatbots, is not going well for real people and their development of lifelong friendships, dating, relationships, prospects of marriage, prospects of parenthood and it’s going to become a global crisis of fertility and the mental health story behind this new reality. The loneliness epidemic is actually going to hurt GDP. Digital and A.I. is disrupting how people used to relate and the town square didn’t bring us together.
“Social isolation has been associated with … premature mortality, increased risk of coronary heart disease and stroke, increased reporting of depressive symptoms, as well as increased dementia risk,” Dr. Alexa Walter and Dr. Danielle Sandsmark of the University of Pennsylvania wrote in an accompanying editorial of the recent research I mentioned.
TikTok in the grand scope of things might have been weaponized and not just with regards to the privacy of children. Instagram brought us a new kind of dystopia and now gaming is set to overtake all other entertainment in the next decade. If gaming is bigger than movies and music combined, BigTech will leverage Generative A.I. to make even more addictive better games faster. Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision is way more symbolic than people realize. As disruptive as Generative A.I. is in the future of coding, I believe it will eventually be way more disruptive in the future of gaming and all entertainment. Think about it:
We’re starting to understand the protective features of good family, community and friendship bonds literally in our study of the brain. The people with the fewest social contacts had overall brain volume that was significantly lower than those with the most social interaction. Additionally, socially isolated people had more white matter lesions — areas of damage in the brain — than people with frequent social contact.
A world of more addictive games, apps and digital Advertising platforms ultimately is bad for mental health outcomes and technological loneliness spiked by A.I. for profit. As Meta, Microsoft, Google, Apple and Amazon hit the “generative A.I.” button as hard as possible, there can only be one outcome, more technological loneliness at a scale we cannot even today in 2023 fully imagine.
A Generative A.I. chatbot mimicking “human relationships” isn’t making the world a better place, it’s substituting people for bots and making us behave differently without our consent. It’s not just toxic for our mental health, and deeply unethical, it’s a new kind of technological coercion taking us further from our instincts to invest time in friendships, dating, community, socializing, exploring groups and finding real human life partnerships of various kinds.
The Generative A.I. bubble is a Venture Capital event, a capital intensive centralization scam to a few winners. A technologically enabled new kind of pyramid scheme. But what is it doing to the human psyche on a generation to generation level? This is not the AI-human hybrid society the Silicon Valley optimism of the early 1990s imagined. This is transforming the attention economy into something far more malignant, pervasive and we’re all quickly becoming captive agents in terms of a new more subtle elements embedded and driving surveillance Capitalism. Generative A.I. will unlock new levels of persuasion, immersion and gamification, and it will be next to impossible to regulate them.
The health risks of loneliness for our mental health and physical well-being may be even higher than we previously thought. In July, a study revealed that lonely diabetics are more prone to cardiovascular disease than the general population. In fact, isolation was found to have more influence on diabetes patients than depression, smoking, physical activity or diet.
Sharing my secrets with Pi and ChatGPT being able to profile me by the sum total of my interactions are not events that will lead to good outcomes in my life. Being watched by A.I. from birth is the new reality for the next generation, like something out of a Black Mirror episode. Generative A.I. is is a gamified barter system for our soul. By cloning human interaction and replacing itself with chatbots and other tools in front of us instead of other people, Silicon Valley is attempting to create a great deception of dependency.
But loneliness kills. If loneliness lies at the heart of nearly all mental illness and that the lonely person was just about the most terrifying spectacle in the world, why have we created technologies that augment it and profit from our vulnerabilities while experiencing it? The Ad-based internet is indeed demonic from a standpoint of our psychological well-being.
If Generative A.I. is leveraged to make advertising more profitable, it means exploiting the human layer, over and over again. This repeated exposure is similar to the over-use of social media or gaming. We are all in the middle of a Playtest of the deepest secret of Monopoly Capitalism, there will soon be deeper levels to this game of Advertising optimized by A.I.
Apple, Amazon and Microsoft rushing into more profitable advertising businesses is a sign of where this will lead when it comes to the implementation of Generative A.I.
Apple’s Vision Pro headset will enable Apple Services and its advertising profits to soar, protecting it from hardware fluctuations. Apple’s Services revenue jumped 8.2% year over year in its latest June Earnings. On recent earnings calls, Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai and his team said “AI” 66 times. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and his execs said it 47 times. They are pumping the bubble up because they know Generative A.I. can enable them to become like Gods.
What will be your place in the Garden of Technological Loneliness?
In a few years, you never considered yourself a “gamer” until Generative A.I. began to design games that were entirely personalized to you, specifically you. Hard to imagine such technology today in 2023, when it took Starfield (an upcoming game) 7 years just to be bug-free. Things like the “Metaverse” or Apple Services or Amazon’s rush into advertising have a purpose, they will be designed to lock you into a particular state. A state where your ARPU (average revenue per user) as a user is the highest, no matter the mental health consequences.
If you thought TikTok was addictive, or that Instagram held you visually in the infinite scroll, Generative A.I. will enable the design of unprecedented immersion that movies, music, art or other people, just won’t be able to compete with. You are already seeing it with the generation who grew up on mobile. The texters were replacing with the scrollers. But what comes after the scrollers? Gaming will one day begin to take attention from video. Everyone from the maker of TikTok, to the New York Times to Netflix have realized this. Generative A.I. will enable games to become vastly more immersive and therefore, coercive. Generative A.I. will be the catnip for new more addictive layers of the attention economy.
GenZ is a case study for technology’s impact on loneliness
A study released in June suggested there may be a link between cancer sufferers who have strong support groups and higher rates of survival. And it isn’t just the elderly or sickly who feel the effects of social isolation: Gen Zers may be feeling it the most. About eight in 10 report feeling isolated — twice the rate of senior citizens.
With Generative A.I. these few corporations, the ones who already control Cloud and digital advertising, will be able not just to augment education and search, but all aspects of the entertainment products best personalized to you. This is how LLMs will actually change the internet forever.
Digital dopamine replacing sex, a pornification of all media, where even our loneliness is exploited and all if it captured by A.I. like never before. A world where OnlyFans is the closest some of us will come to intimacy, where YouTube is the biggest media company, where Generative A.I. will be weaponized against people in ways we cannot yet fully imagine. Wait a few years and you will see, I am not even exaggerating.
Generative A.I. is being heralded if it was a boon to human civilization but what if it were really a very dangerous pandora’s box or worse yet, a trojan horse? What do you suppose is the real reason Apple doesn’t use the term A.I. or Generative A.I. when it’s come out they have been working on it for years? Transformers came out in 2017, and if you cannot beat Google, you must join them:
Microsoft, Apple and Amazon will continue to make a greater share of their total revenue from digital Advertising and thus their incentives to use A.I. en entrap users like Meta or Google will be one and the same.
Apple Services will be Boosted by Generative A.I.
In the recent Earnings, Advertising continues to be a booming business for Amazon, with quarterly revenue jumping 22% in the period to $10.7 billion. This means eventually Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and the likes of ByteDance, Netflix and OpenAI will challenge the Duopoly (Google and Meta) in digital Advertising.
The Generative Gamification Moment
The incentive of digital advertising will turn Generative A.I. into a device weaponized against the user and greater ARPU squeezes. We know how the internet works, it’s 2023, we’ve had two decades of trial experience. The narrative that Generative A.I. will boost productivity is just a ploy narrative. It’s basically a dummy narrative for politicians, the public and executives of other industries to spur adoption. It’s a sales elevator pitch. Generative A.I. will reshape coding, gaming and the most lucrative parts of the internet like Search Advertising.
Google's top revenue source in 2022 was search ads. Of the $279.81 billion in revenue the company brought in, a whopping $162.45 billion came from search ads. That’s 58% of its entire business. Microsoft giving $10 billion to OpenAI in a complex deal and putting “Copilot” everywhere and adding multiple new expensive subscriptions and bundlings them isn’t just an anti-competitive tactic, it’s a preliminary example of how Generative A.I. will be used (with the excuse of inflation) for even greater profits. Generative A.I. may simply redistribute more wealth into the winners of Monopoly Capitalism. This is why the GABNAMM companies are pushing Generative A.I. so hard:
GABNAMM stands for:
This is when historians will say gaming and advertising ate media and capitalism, as Generative A.I. was ushered in as a ‘productivity’ savior. Ironically, this variety of AGI will focus on monetization, not productivity. Incidentally making us miserable in the process will make us less productive.
These are the most valuable companies in the world by Market Cap as of August, 2023:
These ironically are also the companies best positioned to leverage Generative A.I. to usher in a new kinds of dominance, conversational A.I. and enterprise LLMs that bolster both Cloud, Advertising and Gaming bottom lines. It’s not by accident Apple and Amazon have both gotten into gaming in recent years and why Microsoft has bought its way into a dominant position there.
a16z basically spells out how pivotal Generative A.I. will be in the future of gaming, and I don’t even think they fully understand what it will become. But for the future of technological loneliness, I think we can take a fairly accurate guess. I understood it fully when I watched the announcement of Apple’s Vision Pro on June 5th, 2023.
There it was, a vision of an ecosystem where you are alone, but not “really” alone of course! The illusion of connection always dances seductively at the fringes of the experience. But the user experience will amount to Generative A.I. learning how to manipulate you.
Generative A.I. is a Precursor to the Brain Computer Interface
A world of such convenience that the office was basically on your head. Where collaboration and both work and play lived inextricably near, profoundly intimate and a seamless merging of the human and the machine. Not A.I. or Generative A.I., Apple calls it “machine learning”, the more academic term it prefers as part of its marketing and branding narrative.
But GABNAMM have their playbook that Silicon Valley evolved, that Google and Facebook so famously exploited to dominate. With about half a dozen major corporations it’s not like a duopoly, they really do compete at the onset of Generative A.I. to incorporate the new shiny tech into a new shiny product and human interface. They compete for A.I. Supremacy of Generative A.I., and in that light gaming and advertising take on new importance bolstered with LLMs.
So far as we can tell, that seems to be Apple’s Vision Pro. China’s ByteDance may even end up beating Meta to the Metaverse, we’ll have to wait and see. China clearly has a lot riding on ByteDance and TikTok not getting banned.
Building social connection does not mean spending more on Tinder, or Meta swallowing even more monthly active users. Generative A.I. will be fundamentally be used in product optimization that hurts people and fundamentally makes them more lonely. All that BigTech revenue is blood money if you think about it. It’s tainted, because it harms more than it helps.
Corporations will Leverage Generative A.I. for Attention
There is no application of Generative A.I., where technological loneliness is not made worse. Not in VR, not with chatbots presumably replacing even more human interaction, and not with gaming ecosystems like Roblox or whatever Microsoft ends up creating. That Netflix and Roblox are getting more into Advertising isn’t surprisingly, it was inevitable all along.
The future of media are not movies, streaming or subscription based pure-play models by the way. The future of media are Generative A.I. Ad-based ecosystems that can do everything including offer other businesses LLMs, quantum computing and A.I. in the Cloud. The future of media isn’t just YouTube, it’s gaming, video and apps (the current human interface), augmented by Generative A.I.
Apple Services and Microsoft are dependent on subscription revenue, but a subscription revenue of hundreds of products. Subscriptions in the hundreds diversifies the sustainable revenue generation and builds platform moats. But these only complement Azure or Apple’s hardware revenue or allow Amazon’s engine of commerce with Amazon Prime and AWS to be funded. Advertising is invariably the incentive that will turn Generative A.I. to the dark side when it comes to consumer convenience and consumer coercion. The dark arts of the UX and ‘Black Mirror’ side to product optimization. Generative A.I. can make products more persuasive, not just make us think workers will be more productive.
People began to tell me they felt isolated, invisible, and insignificant. Even when they couldn’t put their finger on the word “lonely,” time and time again, people of all ages and socioeconomic backgrounds, from every corner of the country, would tell me, “I have to shoulder all of life’s burdens by myself,” or “if I disappear tomorrow, no one will even notice.” - Dr. Vivek H. Murthy
Entertainment is the Currency of Persuasion
It’s not by accident the likes of Alibaba, Amazon and Apple have invested so heavily in entertainment and media. Cultural persuasion and your brand is the currency that matters in creating a moat that few others can replicate. That’s why ByteDance has gotten into music streaming, even book publishing, A.I. supremacy also means cultural supremacy and the game of influence. Digital advertising is the ultimate stamp of influence. The rise of Apple services and not Netflix getting into advertising is the real story here. The rise of Microsoft as a gaming giant and not Meta pretending its an A.I. leader is the real story here.
Generative A.I. has an astounding ability to manipulate users and create convenience in product-market fit. Some of the art, music, video and chats with LLMs feel “real”. It’s the seductive illusion that makes it such a great fit for advertising, gaming, software as a service (SaaS) and other lucrative ways humans immerse themselves in the digital, losing a bit of themselves in the process. Being at greater risk of becoming lonely.
Just as TikTok knows if you are lonely just from what you end up engaging with. Whatever your emotional reaction to content, you are a target for a certain kind of content. That’s why facial recognition (e.g. TikTok) and pupil dilation (e.g. VR) can predict so much of what you will end up liking or even doing the next second. Surveillance Capitalism in using facial recognition and pupil dilation have more data points to manipulate your emotional state, either to increase engagement or serve you Ads at the right time, among other touchpoints. Eye-tracking in VR is a substantial upgrade for surveillance capitalism for advertising based Generative A.I.
Apple is bulking up its talent for Generative A.I. All these companies have realized how important LLMs will become to optimize the product experience, the human interface and more importantly in boosting Ads revenue and adoption of new more immersive human interfaces, like brain computer interfaces (BCIs). The Vision Pro is a primitive BCI.
We Spend 40% of our Waking Hours Online
Generative A.I. isn’t some neutral tech that scientists discovered. It’s a new kind of artificial intelligence that is being weaponized against users, consumers and even citizens. Whatever social media did to our mental health and however it damaged our ability to socialize in the real world, Generative A.I. will take us deeper down the rabbit hole. If not by Silicon Valley, then by China. Generative A.I. will allow Surveillance capitalism to mature, even as what we call “democracy” or “capitalism” is uprooted from what they were originally intended to be.
GABNAMM will tell you that Generative A.I. is incredible and that it’s going to lead to so many great advances. Meaning your agency online will continue to diminish, your freedom of choice and even your time online, time in gaming, time not with people will continue to impacted.
The typical global internet user’s average daily internet during the past twelve months is around 6 hours 37 minutes per day. That’s nearly exactly 40% of all time you spend awake. Keep in mind for young people it’s way way higher and higher still if you are a heavy social media user or gamer, or both. By 2030 it will be a lot more than forty percent. Generative A.I. will be responsible.
Generative A.I. will simply be another launchpad for Surveillance Capitalism to betray the users in new ways. Ask an A.I. “Scientist” if this can be regulated? Go ahead. The acute problem of Technological loneliness will mean mental health will continue to be a huge issues as the era of personalized Ads will become more coercive by the nature of the tendency to manipulate that is the very foundational nature of Generative A.I. products. Nobody fully understands how Generative A.I. does what it does or how, so Generative A.I. is the black box of the black mirror. And, that’s why it’s so dangerous.
Loneliness is far more than just a bad feeling—it harms both individual and societal health. It is associated with a greater risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia, stroke, depression, anxiety, and premature death. The mortality impact of being socially disconnected is similar to that caused by smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day,4 and even greater than that associated with obesity and physical inactivity - Letter from the Surgeon General
Generative A.I. will usher in new ways for authoritarian regimes to increase their power, whether that’s of Chinese origin or Silicon Valley in origin.
ByteDance (the maker of TikTok) has an estimated 31.7 billion U.S. dollars in digital ad revenue from Douyin and TikTok in 2022, the company remained the fifth spot among global ad publishers. I actually believe this estimate under-reports the true figure even back in 2022.
Since advertising is the central hub of how the internet has been monetized, everything that is revenue-centric such as how Generative A.I. will be used, and the fastest growing kinds of entertainment like gaming, stand the most to gain from whatever LLMs become and Generative A.I. is able to do by 2025, 2030 and so on.
Thus Technological loneliness will only be augmented by that intersection of advertising, gaming and generative A.I.
Other kinds of media will become less important and finally obsolete, like TV, News or Moves not generated by Generative A.I.
That’s the future of the internet, whatever form it takes exactly doesn’t really matter. That’s the future of capitalism too, that’s the future of the human condition. Even U.S. politics is now a charade impacted by social media, advertising, Generative A.I. deepfakes and so forth. You will see in 2024, it’s no longer democracy. There is no alternative reality to that internet. To that American flavor of reality. Whether it’s by virtue of a BCI (brain computer interface) or a VR headset, it’s all the same. One homogenized future filled with myriad ways to feel technologically lonely.
Generative A.I. thus will impact all human behavior that can be monetized. Including our tendency to feel lonely and vulnerable in this increasingly digital world where we spend at least 40% of our waking ours “connected” to it. Even when this connection feels strangely hollow and disconnected. Even when we are able to pause and disconnect, we find the world has gone on without us in the same way as usual, as if by design.
Thus in even five years, there is no escape from “Generative A.I.”. because it will be generating your digital reality and in almost every product. We will embed our most manipulative and coercive illusions into all our hardware and software, and we’ll call it, wait for it, a “triumph of technology”.
We will squeeze the human soul to the limits of human psychological despair, just to get the maximum ARPU from each person. But our human spirit and what’s left of our humanity will feel something is inwardly off. Until those born before the internet was invented and Generative A.I. was invented, will no longer be alive. Our descendents won’t recognize a reality without Generative A.I., before the internet became alive.
We will still be lonely. Yes, even in greater convenience and living with more coercive products. Our privacy, freedom, human rights and ability to connect with others will have been striped from us, as if by default. As if intentionally, because it’s profitable. And as such, there will be no escape from Generative A.I. and whatever AGI becomes.
Loneliness and isolation represent profound threats to our health and well-being. But also tells the story of the predatory nature of technology and the human-interface when we place advertising, attention and entertainment at the forefront of the internet, instead of education, well-being and human progress.
Generative A.I. is a blooming garden of synthetic media, yet it will, I predict, end up feeling even colder, emptier and more barren than social media. I believe it will make us even more lonely. I look forward to reading the studies, if they ever do indeed come out.
Thanks for reading!
I’m looking to start a series on technological loneliness, DM me on LinkedIn if you want to pitch an angle for a guest post in A.I. Supremacy.
If A.I. elicits an emotion in us, is it real, or is it a hallucination produced and elicited on the black market of synthetic media? When we question our bonds, and say to ourselves, ‘is our connection even real’, it will have new implications.