IT’S the phrase on everyone’s lips this week – AI. And it’s not the AI we are used to hearing about down on the farm – it’s the other one! The AI that’s making headlines these days is Artificial Intelligence – the kind of thing that was the stuff of sci-fi movies up to recently. Suddenly, it’s everywhere ... and getting closer to us all the time.
While scientists and technology gurus have been working away quietly for years on developing the software to create intelligent systems that can basically do the work of humans (or several humans at once, if we are to believe them), it is only in the last few months that the fruit of their labours has filtered into the general conversation.
It really came to prominence this week when The Irish Times fell foul of AI’s journalistic endeavours. Or, rather, fell foul of someone thinking it was hilarious and smart to dupe a national newspaper.
Although a review of the incident is currently being conducted by the paper, it does appear that a staff member of the Times did believe they were in correspondence with a real contributor, who was submitting an article on fake tan.
It took a female journalist in an online publication to spot something wasn’t quite right with the online byline photograph, and, sleuth-like, she delved further into the picture – and later the article – and was able to establish that all was not what it seemed.
The article was subsequently taken off the newspaper’s website and an abject apology was issued by the editor.
But nobody should be surprised by the ease at which a computer-generated profile and content can find itself appearing in a publication of such stature. It’s not the first time a publication has been duped, and it most likely will not be the last.
Such so-called ‘intelligence’ is coming at a time when traditional journalism is under huge pressure from all sides, and especially at the resources end of the spectrum.
It’s many years since the demise of the sub-editor was predicted. This often expensive but previously essential layer of newspaper production was seen as the most likely part of the process to come under fire from the bean-counters.
In many news organisations, reporters have now been given the power to write headlines minutes after filing their copy remotely, cut or lengthen copy to fit a pre-determined page design, while commissioning editors find themselves back at base, fulfilling the role of fact-checkers – the role which was foremost on the list of sub-editors’ tasks.
Indeed, these were all jobs that sub-editors relished as part of the daily grind of getting a story cut to fit, verified, and styled to suit the relevant publication.
Nowadays a bank of sub-editors on a newsdesk is too often seen as a luxury and, sadly, a ‘legacy’ role, reminiscent of the old days of print-only journalism.
But what the onward march of ‘fake news’ has shown is that fact-checking should be top of the list of priorities for media organisations, and not an after-thought.
The journalists who can prove their credentials for truth and transparency are the ones who will have a good future in this ever-changing and, quite honestly, frightening world, where so much news content, whether read or heard, must be treated with suspicion.
The bigger the newspaper, the greater the risk it will be infiltrated by this new ground-breaking technology.
Which is why your local newspaper may well become the most trustworthy source of news in the brave new world of AI journalism.
Your local paper is staffed by local people who live and breathe the news coming from their towns and villages, all day, every day. They are real people who you will meet in your local supermarket, in the restaurant, at a football match, in the church, and most definitely in your local courthouse.
You can talk to them, call them, even meet them to share a local story, or piece of community news. There are no concerns that the stories they are writing are generated by a chatbot or software package, because you know the people in those stories too, and the placenames and the faces in the photos alongside those articles.
Can there be anything more trustworthy and reassuring than reading the news in your local publication? And can there be anything more important than continuing to support that news source, to ensure that what you are reading, and what is being reported, is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?