In this episode of High Theory, Matthew Kirschenbaum talks about txt, or text. Not texting, or textbooks, but text as a form of data that is feeding large language models. Will the world end in fire, flood, or text?
In the full interview, Matthew recommended Tim Maughan’s novel Infinite Detail(Macmillan, 2019) as an excellent example of writing about the end of the internet, and Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven(Knopf, 2014) as a positive example of a post-internet apocalypse. In the episode he references a paper by Beder et al., “On the Dangers of Stochastic Parrots: Can Language Models Be Too Big?” FAccT ’21: Proceedings of the 2021 ACM Conference on Fairness, Accountability, and Transparency (March 2021): 610–623. And several apocalyptic scenarios, including the dead internet theory and the gray goo hypothesis.
Matthew Kirschenbaum is Distinguished University Professor of English and Digital Studies at the University of Maryland and Director of the Graduate Certificate in Digital Studies. His books include Track Changes: A Literary History of Word Processing (Harvard UP 2016) and Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination (MIT Press, 2008). With Kari Kraus, he co-founded and co-directs BookLab, a makerspace, studio, library, and press devoted to what is surely our discipline’s most iconic artifact, the codex book. See mkirschenbaum.net or follow him on Twitter (or X?) as @mkirschenbaum for more.
Because we are hoping to encourage the text apocalypse, we made today’s image using generative AI. Specifically Saronik made it using the prompt “Text” in Canva’s AI interface.