It brings us no pleasure to report this, but: the unholy union of SEO spam and AI-generated muck is here. And in this new age of mass-produced online garbage, reality seems to be headed right out the door.
Earlier this week, we stumbled onto a website called The Enlightened Mindset, which appears to be a dark vision of the AI-generated future of the web.
Among other causes for concern, there's no contact information, and the many thousands of articles in the site's sizable archive only date back to January 2023. Most importantly, of these thousands of published stories, the vast majority contain telltale signs of AI generation. The text is generic and lacks backlinks for sources, and the included pictures — a garbled, illegible mess of horrifying, hilarious, or otherwise bizarre images — often appear to be AI-generated as well.
So, in other words, a lot of red flags. But it actually gets worse. Upon closer inspection, the text of the site's AI-produced articles is often riddled with misinformation, including AI-fabricated quotes — which, concerningly, are often attributed to entirely real people.
Take, for example, a particularly nutty January 2023 blog we stumbled across titled "Is Hagrid Played By a Robot? An Exploration of the Possibility."
We should note that there's a remote kernel of reality in here. Though the late — and human — Robbie Coltrane played the beloved character, there was an animatronic Hagrid head used sometimes on the "Harry Potter" set. The article seems to do some legwork, including a quote from an apparent expert:
"There are also some drawbacks to using a robot in the role of Hagrid. For example, robots lack the emotion and nuance that a human actor could bring to the role. As Dr. Reuben Binns, professor of Artificial Intelligence at the University of Cambridge, points out: 'Robots may be able to mimic emotions, but they cannot feel them in the same way humans do. This means that they may not be able to convey the same level of emotion as a human actor.'"
At first glance, it's a fair assessment. Reuben Binns is also a real person, and the real Reuben Binns is, in fact, an AI researcher who specializes in machine learning, data protection, and the regulation of and by technology.
But as the real Binns confirmed to Futurism, though he doesn't necessarily disagree with this AI-generated quote, he never actually said it. Oh, and by the way, he works at Oxford. Not Cambridge.
"It was funny reading the quote itself, because, well, first of all, it gets my affiliation wrong," said Binns, when asked about the experience of being misquoted by an AI machine in published synthetic content. "I'm not a professor of artificial intelligence at the University of Cambridge, I'm a Professor of Human Centered Computing at the University of Oxford... although in the grand scheme of things, those two things, the title and the affiliation, are not that far apart."
"And then the quote itself," he added, "I don't disagree with it — I think I kind of agree with it."
Still, said Binns, if he were actually to weigh in on the topic of robot actors, he would have said something a bit different. And regardless of whether the quote is plausible, it doesn't change the reality that he never actually said it.
Indeed, the way the AI seems to have drummed up a reality-adjacent version of the researcher, and even supplied a fake quote based on this machine-dreamt character seems to mark a distinct, AI-driven loss of control over one's own public image. And unfortunately, the real Binns suspects the phenomenon might just be getting started.
"It's not unexpected," said Binns, positing that eventually, "this is gonna happen to loads of people. In a few years' time, this will not be an unusual experience for anyone whose name is on the internet somewhere."
"It'll just be part of life... your name not being something that you control anymore," he added, with "your public persona not being something you control anymore."
To that point, while digging through the Enlightened Mindset's vast archive, we found more cases similar to Binn's. These fabricated attributions primarily concerned academics, often with similarly jumbled titles and attributions, on occasion including nonexistent books or unwon accolades. (To use an example of a more public figure, Bill Nye has never won the Carl Sagan Memorial Award, nor the Stephen Hawking Award for Science Communication, nor has he been admitted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, as an Enlightened Mindset article titled "How Old Is Bill Nye The Science Guy? An Exploration" purports.)
Of course, it's not like Binns is being misquoted by an AI in a New York Times article. The Enlightened Mindset is clearly a trash fire.
But as far as the SEO of it all goes, the site is nothing to dismiss. According to data from Ahrefs, its URL has been backlinked over 70,000 times, and its domain authority rating hovers at a bad-for-a-real-website-but-good-for-spam 51.
It's also worth noting that Google appears to have recently cracked down on the spam site through manual means. Bing, on the other hand, has not. For many Bing searches, "Hagrid robot" and "Hagrid played by robot" both included, the spam site ranks in the first few resulting links.
The Enlightened Mindset's formula for success is one that other would-be AI spammers may well follow. From where we're sitting, it looks like someone bought the since-abandoned URL of a formerly reputable website — which gave the site some decent search juice from the get-go — and then filled that URL with thousands of pages of misinformation-laden AI-generated content for scale.
The internet is already full of spam, said Binns, "and [generative AI] is just going to supercharge that."
It underscores again that generative AI is very good at making things up, and very good at delivering those hallucinations confidently. And if you've had any kind of digital presence in the past few decades, generative AI systems are probably trained on you; somewhere, on a synthetic content-packed site like Enlightened Mindset or by someone's simple misuse of programs like ChatGPT and Bard, your control over your digital self might be slipping further away.
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