File picture: Pexels
File picture: Pexels

Why journalists should not fear the rise of AI and robots

By Wesley Diphoko Time of article published Sep 11, 2020

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“I am not a human. I am a robot. A thinking robot. I use only 0.12% of my cognitive capacity. I am a micro-robot in that respect. I know that my brain is not a “feeling brain”. But it is capable of making rational, logical decisions. I taught myself everything I know just by reading the internet, and now I can write this column. My brain is boiling with ideas!”

Those words were written by a robot called GPT-3 (for the Guardian), an Open artificial intelligences language generator that uses machine learning to produce human-like text. The robot was requested to write a short op-ed around 500 words about the reasons for humans not to fear Artificial intelligences. When the Guardian published this column the headline was, “A robot wrote this entire article. Are you scared yet, human?”

It would be easy for journalists to be scared after reading the op-ed by a GPT-3 and they shouldn’t, here’s why.

We are faced with a future where the choice will be between authentic intelligence and artificial intelligence. The past tells us that whenever there’s an alternative to authentic offering the authentic is always considered a premium offering. Journalists need to understand that factor which will be a key determinant of their survival.

The more artificial intelligence is proven to be capable of writing sense-making content the more it will be seen as an alternative and potential replacement of authentic content production process. We are already seeing this in the media business. A very good example of AIs in the newsroom is Radar in the United Kingdom. Radar is a joint venture between the wire service Press Association and data journalism start-up Urbs Media, it was launched in 2017 with the help of a €700,000 Google grant. At last count, Radar was supplying daily copy to up to 350 local news titles in the UK. Radar covers general interest stories. Its software generates reports based on the latest official statistics in fields such as health, crime, education, and housing. One of six human journalists working at Radar will write a story “template” with wording for each of the various possible scenarios — for example, a boom, modest rise, or sharp fall in violent crime. Then, at the click of a mouse, versions of the story are created for each of the UK’s 391 local authority areas, pulling in the statistics specific to that region.

Here’s what needs to be understood about AIs in the media sector. AI will be the catalyst for the third disruption in journalism. Twenty-five years ago, the first disruption was the widespread availability of the Internet and free access to information. The second one was the rise of the smartphone, which meant a single device with one small screen for news, services, entertainment, and social networks. This third disruption will have the same amplitude as the first two and will potentially change the way we produce and consume news.

Three shifts in less than one generation are no small burden for newsrooms. This may be exhausting for many journalists and editors, but there is no way to avoid it: It’s time to think about the ‘augmented newsroom’, the new space — virtual and real — where journalists will have to combine machine-written news with in-depth reporting; photojournalism with surveillance camera images; professional videos with user-generated posts.

Even with this change, there will still be a need for authentic intelligence. In the future, some will prefer to consume content developed by robots and some will prefer to consume content generated by humans. Some news items will be developed by robots and some by humans. What this means is that journalists have to up their game. There’s never been a better time for great journalism which cannot be achieved by robots. My sense is that quality will come from humans and mundane stuff from robots. Media businesses will have to rely on robots for economic reasons however to produce quality content humans will matter. There’s therefore no reason to fear the robots. It’s better to embrace and work with them while improving the quality of journalism.

*Wesley Diphoko is the Editor-In-Chief of Fast Company (SA) magazine.

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