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Revisiting AOL Hell

The first article I ever saved to Instapaper — 11 years ago, three years after it was created and quite some time before it turned into my personal graveyard of text — was AOL Hell from the now defunct The Faster Times The link is to the Wikipedia entry which, strangely, says that as of February 2018 the url belonged to someone in Serbia. An odd coincidence.. The titular hell is the one AOL created for the employees producing content for its text mill. Writes Oliver Miller:

My “ideal” turn-around time to produce a column started at thirty-five minutes, then was gradually reduced to half an hour, then twenty-five minutes. Twenty-five minutes to research and write about a show I had never seen — and this twenty-five minute period included time for formatting the article in the AOL blogging system, and choosing and editing a photograph for the article. Errors were inevitably the result. But errors didn’t matter; or rather, they didn’t matter for my bosses.

This is, in fact, why AI will destroy the Web as we know it. And if you have any doubts about the outcome of Large Language Models being set loose on the internet, well, AOL wanted to do it even before it was trivial, destroying a few humans in the process:

The document reveals the same attitude that the bosses at the old Ford Motors factory had, when the assembly line was first introduced. Every week or so, the assembly-line was sped up; incrementally, barely noticeably, but the increase had a staggering, cumulative effect, and soon, those workers who couldn’t keep up found themselves standing by the wayside. If AOL could find a good way for machines to write about Lady Gaga, they would almost certainly fire the writers who remain.

They now have the machines, folks… They have the machines.

Mr. Miller can now be found on Medium, writing poetry.

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