‘Unsettling’ Google AI seeks to bring generative content to the news room

An origami unicorn made of New York Times articles, referencing Blade Runner
(Image credit: Laptop Mag / Rael Hornby / Jo Nakashima)

Google’s AI ventures are expanding rapidly. Its next efforts? Bringing generative AI to the newsroom. According to an article in The New York Times, Google is reportedly meeting with high-profile publications such as themselves, The Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal to discuss the possibility — with some executives describing Google’s pitch as “unsettling.”

You’d think that such a reaction would indicate that publications are hesitant to make room at the news desk for AI. That people whose job it is to stay informed and abreast of risks and threats, and to propagate information with integrity would run a mile from computer programs designed and maintained by mega-corporations with full control over its algorithms. You’d think.

However, in all their infinite wisdom (and likely terrified someone else will do it first and make a profit) news publications are more than happy to explore the benefits of AI. According to the same article, organizations like The Times, NPR, and Insider have all alerted employees of their desire to submit the world’s primary alert system to our corporate-controlled AI overlords.

Oh, sorry. The article actually says “explore potential uses of A.I. to see how it might be responsibly applied to the high-stakes realm of news.” Silly me.

Google Genesis: The AI future of the newsroom?

Known internally as ‘Genesis’, Google’s AI newsroom tool is able to digest details of current events and spin it into news copy in a matter of moments. While that’s no doubt going to raise the neck hairs of journalists the world over, Google spokeswoman, Jenn Crider insists that “these tools are not intended to, and cannot, replace the essential role journalists have in reporting, creating, and fact-checking their articles.” Why do I feel like somebody removed a “yet” from the end of that statement?

According to a source familiar with the product, Google sees the inclusion of generative AI in the newsroom as a way to help “steer the publishing industry away from the pitfalls of generative AI.” The NYT article sadly failed to confirm if this person’s head exploded from the amount of double-think they were engaged in. But the probability is high.

Google appears to see Genesis as more of a personal assistant to journalists, with the tool offering to automate certain tasks like creating headlines only to free up time for other matters to be undertaken. This only begs the question: “Why bother to make it capable of doing the rest of the work too then?”

Outlook

Large Language Models (LLMs) like ChatGPT have invited AI into our lives like never before, their generative capabilities and knowledgeable, human-like responses have been a marvel to behold — but its rapid adoption is causing many to pause for thought.

While some won’t be phased by the notion of AI auto-piloting your Tesla, should we be so flippant about letting AI take the wheel when it comes to our news feeds and information chain?

While Google can make the claim that its Genesis AI tool is not intended to replace the role of journalists, it fails to realize that (much like how it’s been in other industries) showcasing such a product with the notion of it rapidly improving efficiency and coverage will have the same effect on certain publishers as wafting a Porterhouse under the nose of a starving lion.

In an age when profits, views, and clicks are king for publishers, why settle for improved efficiency when you can have total efficiency? Why pay journalists to do the work, when a much cheaper bot farm can churn out generative article after generative article of algorithm-powered audience bait trained to snare as many eyeballs as possible?

After all, do we really think the Rupert Murdochs of the world care more about journalism than coin?

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Rael Hornby
Content Editor

Rael Hornby, potentially influenced by far too many LucasArts titles at an early age, once thought he’d grow up to be a mighty pirate. However, after several interventions with close friends and family members, you’re now much more likely to see his name attached to the bylines of tech articles. While not maintaining a double life as an aspiring writer by day and indie game dev by night, you’ll find him sat in a corner somewhere muttering to himself about microtransactions or hunting down promising indie games on Twitter.