AI Slop: The Unseen Flood of AI-Generated Content

AI generated
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Avoiding AI-generated content online has become nearly impossible. From AI-enhanced Google search results with AI Overview and AI-crafted images to AI-written articles, AI-composed music, artificial intelligence is everywhere. This concept closely mirrors the Dead Internet Theory, which posits that a substantial portion of online activity and content is generated by AI agents rather than humans.

Tech experts have coined a term for content created using generative AI primarily for monetization: “Slop.” This term describes the influx of AI-generated material uploaded to the web indiscriminately for public consumption.

Much like terms such as spam and troll have become ingrained in internet culture, AI slop aims to label this new wave of content, helping users recognize and potentially steer clear of it.

What is AI-Generated Slop?

“Slop” is an AI-generated content – both text and images – that’s created mainly to flood the internet with low-quality material. This material aims to draw in advertising income and influence search engine rankings, but it lacks the interactive engagement seen in chatbots that directly interact with users. Slop remains static, frequently leading astray, and acts merely as digital clutter.

This phenomenon arises from algorithms designed to churn out vast quantities of text and images, offering shallow responses and an overload of easily shareable yet meaningless content.

The underlying economic model drives this trend: even a handful of clicks on these AI-crafted pages can cover their minimal production costs, making the endeavor profitable.

However, it’s important to note that not all promotional content is spam, nor is all AI-generated content slop. If the content is thoughtlessly produced and imposed on unsuspecting users, “slop” aptly captures its essence.

Examples of AI Slop

When “spam” became widely recognized, it helped people understand and counter unwanted emails. Similarly, defining “slop” can help highlight the issues posed by unchecked AI-generated content on the web, according to experts.

Text-based AI-Generated Slop

A notable instance of slop involved an AI-generated meal planning app powered by AI in New Zealand that recommended recipes that included dangerous substances like chlorine gas and glue. 

On Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing platform, several AI-authored books on mushroom foraging contained dangerous misinformation. Some guides incorrectly identified poisonous mushrooms as edible, posing serious health risks to readers who might follow the advice.

While some suggestions were bizarre but harmless, others posed serious health risks, demonstrating the potential for AI to provide hazardous advice if not properly monitored​.

AI-Generated Visual Content Slop

This problem also affects visual content on social media platforms such as Facebook frequently garners attention for its absurdity, with AI-generated images often gaining viral traction. An example of AI slop encompasses peculiar portrayals, such as an image of the “Shrimp Jesus”. This AI-generated image depicts Jesus Christ fused with various sea creatures, particularly shrimp.

These bizarre images quickly went viral, spreading across the platform and amusing users with their absurdity. The incident highlights how AI-generated content can proliferate on social media, often driven by algorithms favoring engagement over quality. 

Although these visuals may evoke amusement, they play a role in disseminating misinformation and cluttering the digital sphere.

The “Zombie Internet” Phenomenon

Tech journalist Jason Koebler from 404 Media coined the term “zombie internet” to describe this phenomenon, where bots, inactive accounts, and real users intermingle, creating a chaotic and often nonsensical online experience. 

This situation is problematic for users and advertisers alike, who back much of the internet’s free content. Users increasingly misidentify legitimate ads as AI-generated slop, undermining the trust and effectiveness of digital advertising.

Video source: YouTube/2kliksphilip

The Challenge of AI-Generated Slop

Combating the spread of AI-generated slop is an uphill battle. To grasp the extent of the issue, consider the recent introduction of “AI Overviews” in Google search results, which provide AI-generated summaries. 

While intended to improve user experience by summarizing content, it also has the potential to spread slop by blurring the line between authentic and AI-generated content. And let’s not forget that AI has a propensity to “hallucinate” nonsensical responses, sometimes leading to the dissemination of misinformation, including potentially harmful content.

Attempts by Social Media Platforms and Advertising Agencies

Social media platforms like Facebook, along with many other social networking companies, are actively working to address these issues. They’re putting effort into training their systems to distinguish between content generated by AI and that created by humans.

The same challenge exists for distinguishing between synthetic and real content. Advertising agencies, upon which all social media revenue now depends, are also concerned. If users start to think of all content as AI slop, this may generalize into a larger loss of faith in the industry.

The Broader Industry Challenge

While the industry cooperation that eroded email spam was eventually thoroughgoing and has led to some persistent changes in email infrastructure, the degree of the challenge presented by slop is greater. The biggest industry players are now the ones using AI to generate content.

And as that content grows increasingly slopped, efforts to stop its spread are persistently behind. Whether the term will galvanize a movement against low-brow AI-generated material is a matter of conjecture. Still, its very prevalence indicates the problem’s pressing nature.

How to Identify and Combat AI-Generated Slop

No doubt, stopping the advance of slop will take a focused and coordinated effort, equal to what finally did email spam in. 

This is, however, hard to do since the big tech companies’ economic incentives, which are now predisposed to benefit from this content’s machine-generational aspect, are playing out. 

As members of that digital society, we need to stay vigilant about the content we engage with on the web. In taking these steps, we contribute to preserving the internet as a platform for authentic human engagement and meaningful knowledge sharing, devoid of the pervasive influence of deceptive AI-generated content.

AI Slop: Key Takeaways

AI-generated content is now everywhere online, making it almost impossible to escape. This flood of AI-created material – spanning search results, images, articles, and music – reflects the Dead Internet Theory, which claims much of what we see online is produced by AI, not humans.

Tech experts have coined the term “Slop” to describe this low-quality, AI-generated content made mainly for profit. The idea is to help users spot and avoid this type of material that clogs up the web.

Fighting the spread of AI slop will take a joint effort from tech companies and everyday users. Just like the term spam helped us tackle unwanted emails, recognizing and dealing with AI-generated slop is key to keeping online information reliable. 

By being alert, demanding transparency, and supporting efforts that promote real, quality content, we can make sure the internet stays a place for meaningful human interaction and useful information sharing.

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Neil Sahota
Neil Sahota (萨冠军) is an IBM Master Inventor, United Nations (UN) Artificial Intelligence (AI) Advisor, author of the best-seller Own the AI Revolution and sought-after speaker. With 20+ years of business experience, Neil works to inspire clients and business partners to foster innovation and develop next generation products/solutions powered by AI.