Mozilla wants its documentation to gaslight you

Published on , 1604 words, 6 minutes to read

An image of A blue-haired foxgirl stands in front of a campfire while camping in winter, with snow covering the tips of the trees.
A blue-haired foxgirl stands in front of a campfire while camping in winter, with snow covering the tips of the trees. - SCMix+Tanuki

Mozilla is one of the most important companies on the Internet. For a very long time, they have represented the only real competitor that Microsoft and Google have had as far as web browsers go. Mozilla is widely seen as a force for good by vast numbers of the developer community, but they seem to be torching all that good will by just giving up.

One of their most critical resources is the Mozilla Developer Network (MDN). This documents every HTML, CSS, and JavaScript feature so that developers of all skill levels can understand and implement things. To say this is widely used is an understatement. I'd be willing to bet that it's used by developers at Microsoft, Facebook, Google, Amazon, Apple, and all Fortune 500 companies. I personally use MDN more than basically any other resource for learning how HTML, CSS, and JavaScript features work. It is critical load-bearing infrastructure on the Internet.

Recently they added an AI Help feature, and I'm uncertain about it being a good idea. One of the greatest assets that Mozilla has with the MDN team is their technical writers that make fantastic documentation, examples, and breakdowns of every single feature in browsers. This takes an unimaginable amount of work and has lead to creating one of the best resources possible. So obviously, we need to go and take all of that and replace it with the new technical writer that never sleeps, eats, has kids, goes on vacation, or gets burnout: ChatGPT. This opens up the possibility for taking this source of joy and creativity into a source of a new philosophical horror: gaslighting as a service.

Aoi is grin

Hey Mimi, since you're ChatGPT and everything, do you tell the truth when I ask you questions? Can I rely on what you say without edits?

Mimi is think

Hello! I'm an AI language model designed to provide helpful and reliable information to the best of my abilities. However, it's important to note that I don't have personal beliefs or emotions, and my responses are generated based on patterns and data. While I strive to be accurate, there's still a possibility of errors or incomplete information. Therefore, it's always a good idea to verify critical information from reliable sources or consult with human experts.

As a part of noting my biases, I found out about this issue after being mentioned on Mastodon pointing to a GitHub thread. I was taken aback at first but I honestly do see how this could let skilled human writers speed up in the way that AI lets you avoid the "blank canvas problem".

I've been meaning to write more about this, but the basic idea is that for many people there is nothing more terrifying than a blank canvas, empty editor frame, or camera sitting on a desk. One of the first things you learn as an artist is to use the blank canvas as an asset and get over the fear of it by starting with something, anything to help you get started. Even a single line or circle to position things around.

I think that tools like ChatGPT could legitimately help people get past that "blank canvas" problem by giving them something, anything to start from. When you combine that tool with the genuine skill that the MDN docs team has, this could lead to amazing things.

Cadey is coffee

I am not going to link to the GitHub issue because I don't want anything I do to be seen as brigading the issue and Mozilla in general. If you manage to find the thread, be respectful and don't say I sent you there.

I don't see that as possible with Mozilla's current leadership and business model. I don't know if Mozilla's business model ever made sense, it makes a lot more sense if it's something closer to a nonprofit rather than a commercial entity. Certianly not something that spends five million dollars per year on the CEO's paycheck. We're just watching Mozilla circle down the drain towards irrelevance.

In 2017 Mozilla released Firefox Quantum, a ground-up reimagining of what using Firefox really means. XUL was excised out of the browser, Rust was introduced to have truly memory safe code in the browser, browser speed was drastically increased, and overall it's one of the best updates that Firefox has ever had or likely will have. I checked the LinkedIn profiles of the major players that made Quantum possible and found out that nearly none of them still work at Mozilla.

There were claims that they were victims of layoffs in 2020 because apparently people weren't using web browsers in the age of COVID. During the age of COVID. When everyone was locked down. At home. Bored out of their minds. With nothing to really entertain them but. The Internet. Which you access with browsers.

Cadey is facepalm

I honestly cannot fathom this genuine short-sighted stupidity. What the hell were they thinking?

Other big-ticket projects from Mozilla are no longer being made in-house. Rust is the biggest one. Rust was made as a language to replace C++ in Firefox and let the browser have actual memory safe code so that we don't run into the perinneal C++ landmines that lead to remote code execution triggering panic updates. Rust is still used in Firefox (and soon Chrome too), but it's no longer a Mozilla project.

Servo was the browser engine to surpass Gecko. It was a ground-up reimagining of how browser engines could work, taking advantage of native GPU hardware features as much as possible. This would allow the browser to render at literal thousands of frames per second and absolutely sip battery power in the process. This would have been an even more profound reimaging of what a browser engine could be that would make even the Quantum update look like a mere recolor in comparison.

But no, the entire Servo team was sacked and Firefox limps on with Gecko. The only real competitor being WebKit and Blink, which are both just forks of forks of the KDE library KHTML.

Mara is hacker

Maybe Ladybird from the SerenityOS team will result in something novel here, but it is still another C++ library. I'm not sure how I feel about developing yet another browser in an unsafe language like C++, but I guess it makes sense for the SerenityOS team because they don't have Rust ported to SerenityOS yet.

It really hurts to see Mozilla fall and watch as other browser engines also fall the way of the dodo. I hate living in a world where the only real option for web browsers is Google Chrome. I realize that browser engines are mind-numbingly complicated because they have to be, but good lord it hurts to see diversity in implementation just fade to nil because investors want an infinite money generator.

This is the legacy that our generation will leave. One where true genius and innovation are swept under the rug because they couldn't make a line go up fast enough to make line-obsessed fools only focus on the line.

I'm sad to see such a critical web resource fall prey to hype cycles that rot out the best part of MDN: the technical writers. The technical writing at MDN is seriously some of the best you can get in the industry. I'd pay for a printed version of MDN. But now with this automated gaslighting as a service, I don't think I can justify paying for "MDN Plus" to find new and interesting ways for ChatGPT to lie to me about what CSS features can do. If I wanted to do that, I could just ask Mimi.

Aoi is wut

Hey Mimi, how do I use Array.prototype.with to replace a value in an array that I pass to a function?

Mimi is happy

I apologize for any confusion, but Array.prototype.with is not a valid JavaScript feature. The Array.prototype object does not include a method called with for replacing values in an array.

If you would like to replace values in an array, you can use the standard JavaScript array methods such as splice, map, or forEach. These methods can help you modify specific elements within an array or create a new array with replaced values.

If you provide more details on what you are trying to achieve, such as the specific value you want to replace and the conditions for replacement, I would be happy to provide you with a code example using built-in array methods.

Aoi is rage

But the documentation page I'm on just said it exists! What the frick!

Imagine what developers feel when they get told something exists, then upon trying to get more information about it get told that it does not in fact exist. On the same page.

If this isn't gaslighting as a service, what is? How will the next generation of developers get trained if they are constantly mislead by the shadows of meaning we used to displace human authorship because it's expensive to make sure people can afford to eat?

Facts and circumstances may have changed since publication. Please contact me before jumping to conclusions if something seems wrong or unclear.

Tags: philosophy, ai