AI: Information is power. And power should not be underestimated.
Author: Elma Tahmaz
It is unlikely that some of you did not hear about it. Informally speaking, we could say that Artificial intelligence (AI) includes all “cyber hacks” standing behind the functioning of spooky humanoid robots that we used to see only in science-fiction movies such as EX Machina. Investopedia gives a more scientific definition of this term, stating that “Artificial intelligence refers to the simulation of human intelligence in machines that are programmed to think like humans and mimic their actions.”
Nowadays, AI stopped being science fiction. It became reality. It affects our daily lives more than we are aware of. Amongst others, it affects one of the most common tools we use to protect our fundamental rights and democracy. It affects the fourth estate, the media. “Artificial intelligence and the future of journalism” was exactly what was discussed during the third session of a two-day high level online conference taking place on the 11-12 May 2021, organized by the Portuguese Presidency of the CoE.
Artificial intelligence is here
At first you may not think of any risk connected to AI’s influence on the media. But, have you ever got irritated by the adds, commercials and news that pop-up on your social media profiles? Have you ever felt like someone was stalking your every move or even your conversations, just so that they could bomb you with their products, services and articles? Well, “they” probably do. And “we” most probably accepted this by clicking some box somewhere, agreeing to the terms and references on God knows what web-site or app we are using. So, there we are. Believing that we have our lives under control, while we don’t even have our adds under control.
At the session I mentioned earlier, journalists were seriously addressing this issue of not having AI under control, advocating for its regulation. On one side, we all agree that AI definitely helps journalists save time on boring and technical tasks. Various tools help them produce transcripts of an hour long interviews in a few minutes. Other tools save time on searches through an entire explosion of sources connected to a specific topic. Technology is making our lives easier, and there is no doubt in that. Mankind is not stuck in the stone ages sending letters by pigeons which is undeniably a good thing.
On the other hand, it is still very unclear how AI is actually functioning. Journalists raised the issue of AI’s transparency. They want to get answers on who is creating the algorithms standing behind it, as well as answers on how it prioritizes our search results? Imagine you search a term such as “terrorism” and the only results you get are connected to one specific religion. It could be broadly discussed on how AI can be used to promote hatred, bias and discrimination prioritizing selected news, or even fake news, when under control of wrong people, or not under control at all.
Spreading of disinformation and fake news
Besides raising awareness that application of AI should be regulated with more precision, participants of the conference expressed their deepest concerns on how fake news and news published by non-professionals, or if you like, by you and I, can spread disinformation very fast. Maybe the most illustrative example is when Trump suggested injecting disinfectants as treatment against COVID19. The news was shared and re-shared by the speed of light. Though most of us, who are still using the needed percentage of human intelligence, will certainly not go to the bathroom and drink Mr. Proper products, one percentage of us still did exactly do that.
Once you understand the machinery standing behind the public media, you will understand their frustration. Luisa Meireles, the news director from LUSA stated that 7000 people read their news per day. Rebecca Skippage, News Editor and Disinformation Lead, BBC News stated that they are publishing about 2000 news per day. Can you imagine what amount of work stands behind these numbers? We are talking about serious journalism, professionals that are aware of principles and ethics that need to be respected in order to produce and publish real, timely and informative news. We are talking about professionals that check their sources, then double check their sources, then edit and polish news bearing in mind how to keep our attention to it. And what do we do? We read the first search result that most probably was selected by an unknown algorithm on how to cure COVID19 and start drinking detergents.
It is evident, that AI helps us in many ways and saves a lot of time that would be lost on technicalities. But, it is also very evident that a part of the population is simply not ready to detect and resist its negative impacts. Journalists fighting disinformation and AI’s negative impacts on the quality of news should be commended. But as long as we have readers blindly believing the first news they read half trough, I am afraid that no legal regulation of the creation and application of artificial intelligence can help us save common sense and human intelligence.