Can artificial intelligence save journalism?
- İBRAHIM ALTAY,
- May 14, 2018
When it comes to dreaming about the future, there are several key technological categories that manage to be both highly practical yet futuristic enough for us to consider. But just like with everything new, it has to replace the old, upending our world. The chief among those is artificial intelligence (AI).
We do not have to wait at all to see AI's influence in our society and various sectors either. It has already made numerous tasks in a variety of sectors different with machine learning. Even as it is, we can safely say that artificial intelligence is living up to its hype gained from countless science fiction works – as long as you know where to look of course.
However last week even those who are only partly aware of the future of artificial intelligence had something new to discover. Google introduced its artificial intelligence assistant dubbed Duplex. It was an impressive display, managing to wow the audience. As an artificial intelligence assistant, Google Duplex managed to call several restaurants and book reservations without letting off that it was an AI.One of the biggest hallmarks to consider during the development of artificial intelligence is the Turing Test. Developed by famous scientist Alan Turing in 1950, it is a test designed to determine the machine's ability to exhibit intelligent behavior equivalent or indistinguishable from that of a human. The test does not gauge the machine's ability to be like humans at its core and thinking processes but rather tests its imitation.
With that in mind, the showcase of Google Duplex seems to be okay in that department. After all, it managed to be a human assistant rather successfully. It even had speech imperfections down to pat such as nonsensical sounds we make like "umm and hmm" to gather our thoughts.
Another significant aspect of the calls during the showcase was the artificial intelligence's ability to deal with the curveballs thrown during the conversation. After all it is all well and good to respond to a situation where everything is neat and tidy but if everything falls apart when a complication arises, we would be better off using a human assistant rather than an AI. However even when the table requested was unavailable or the restaurant did not need a reservation for the requested number of people, artificial intelligence assistant managed to end the calls in a satisfying way.
The tool in question is still in development with a limited number of people currently testing it. However, soon we can probably see its widespread usage in the general populace, especially when it includes languages other than English.
But while the success of the demonstration brought excitement to the field, it also gave way to two main fears in the development and rising popularity of artificial intelligence.
Fiction or reality
The first of those fears stems from a long line of science fiction novels predicting that humanity's doom would come from its own creations, namely artificial intelligence. As we move closer to true AI every day, the accompanying fear also becomes more real than fictional as well. People are starting to fear that one day they could hear the lines from the film 2001: A Space Odyssey: "I'm sorry Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that." from their personal AI assistant, the iconic line from the Stanley Kubrick's and Arthur C. Clarke's masterpiece. The fear of AI is at that sweet spot where the threat is fictional enough for us to function yet real enough to cause discomfort.
On the other hand, advances in the AI sector are one of the cornerstones in humanity's way forward in our goal to reach some form of post-scarcity society. Thus we are faced with a slippery slope. Not to mention that we are still at the beginning when it comes to utilizing artificial intelligence. As they still exist mostly in an intangible form, the fear is still diminished. Who knows, in the future, this issue might be the source of civil unrest. Another aspect of this fear is the damage these tools can do in an unscrupulous hand. From the concept of pre-crime to oppressive regimes with unfailing surveillance, artificial intelligence can just as easily enhance the bad as it can enhance the good in any field it is deployed.
On the April 22 dated Reader's Corner article titled "Facebook scandal is the tip of the iceberg" we elaborated on this theme: "An artificial intelligence monitoring tool also means an ever-present eye, unblinking. Remember the dystopia Orwell wove for us in his book 1984. Every home had a 'telescreen' that were used as a propaganda machine and a camera. It was mandatory. Now we too have a camera in our homes and with artificial intelligence tools to track them, those who live under oppressive regimes might come out worse than 1984. After all, those telescreens were monitored by people. People who can fail, who can take a break, who can fall asleep. AI will not do those things."
The second fear when it comes to artificial intelligence is all too real, as its effects are quite tangible. It affects us directly rather than the spectre of possible AI overlords.
The threat to the jobs of numerous people in various sectors is the main reason for the unease toward artificial intelligence. The applications of the technology are already visible. Not to mention that, a major upheaval due to the means of production and services have a precedent already. After all the growing pains of the industrial revolution was recorded well.
The possibility of similar growing pains due to an AI revolution in various sectors is enough reason to worry. But there is much to look forward to as well. After all we enjoy the fruits of the industrial revolution, don't we?
From transportation to various production sectors, AI will have a tremendous impact for good and bad. But what about our own field? How will journalism fare in the face of the AI revolution?
I believe that the artificial intelligence might very well be the necessary tool to rejuvenate the struggling vocation. Let us consider the numerous problems currently plaguing journalism.
Compromising quality for speed, keeping up with the ever-increasing tempo of the daily news feed and juggling multiple platforms while trying to hold on to the journalistic integrity might be solved with an AI assistant.
The daily slog of reporting with material gained from news agencies cause many journalists and editors to become unable to follow through in various news stories. The time for thorough background research is usurped by new stories. Diminishing funds cause less staff to be employed, which strengthens all those problems.
However, a capable AI tool can assist journalists in various tasks. It can do the background research, call contacts to get their statements, report on the daily news cycle and so forth. All the while journalists can use their time to do investigative journalism. Thus, newspapers can distinguish themselves from their competitors instead of printing same agency news stories in every one of their pages. They can provide readers with something new to read and original content.
When it comes to the upcoming changes in our field due to artificial intelligence, it is good to be cautious, but we must also be ready to embrace the changes. Resisting these changes is never a feasible option, as seen in history. We must be open minded but also influence the process in order to reach the best possible outcome. As far as journalism is concerned, the pros seem to outweigh the cons as long as we are careful.