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G/O Media’s AI ‘innovation’ is off to a rocky start


An illustration of a cartoon brain with a computer chip imposed on top.
Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Last week, G/O Media leadership had news for staffers at the many publications the company owns: AI-generated articles were just around the corner.

“We are both a leading technology company and an editorial organization that covers technology in world class fashion across multiple sites,” editorial director Merrill Brown wrote in an email. “So it is utterly appropriate — and in fact our responsibility — to do all we can to develop AI initiatives relatively early in the evolution of the technology.”

G/O’s early experiments with AI tools began on Wednesday through a couple of articles appearing on Gizmodo and The A.V. Club credited to the publications’ respective bots. And almost immediately, there were embarrassing mistakes.

The Gizmodo bot’s first story, “A Chronological List of Star Wars Movies & TV Shows,” contained factual errors about the in-universe chronology of the franchise, something fans were quick to point out. James Whitbrook, a deputy editor of io9, where the story appeared, tweeted that he was unaware the article would be published until shortly before. Whitbrook also said that “no one at io9 played a part in its editing or publication.” As of this writing, the original link to the story is returning an error message.

Over on The A.V. Club, a list called “The Biggest Summer Blockbusters of 2003: 10 Can’t-Miss Movies” is credited to the outlet’s bot. The article contains almost no writing or analysis, but its construction suggests that the piece is an attempt to attract cheap search traffic. The piece was also syndicated to Yahoo Entertainment.

It is unclear how the articles were assigned, generated, and if they were edited at any point by a human before going live. G/O Media didn’t immediately respond to The Verge’s questions about its editorial process and oversight of AI-written stories.

The company, which also owns publications like Deadspin, Jezebel, and The Onion, is far from the first media outlet to utilize generative AI software to produce content. From BuzzFeed to CNET, publishers have turned to AI tools to churn out material like explainer articles, quizzes, and lists, selling the pivot by saying machines would not replace human writers but instead would free up staff so they could work on more ambitious projects.

But for all of the benefits of AI tools media companies extoll, there are glaring issues — for one, the material produced is often bad or plainly inaccurate. After a litany of errors in stories produced using AI systems, human CNET staffers did the work of going back and rewriting dozens of articles. At Men’s Journal, AI-powered articles contained errors in stories about health and science that had to be corrected after publication.

Writers, editors, and other journalists at outlets experimenting with AI tools have pushed back on the encroaching technology, which at times has been deployed with little transparency — and while staffers are laid off and teams gutted. Shortly after announcing its AI initiative, BuzzFeed shuttered its Pulitzer-winning news arm. Employees at CNET recently unionized, saying workers need to have a say in how AI tools are being used at the outlet.

The Gizmodo union urged readers not to click any articles credited to the bot, calling the rollout of the articles “unethical and unacceptable.”

Disclosure: The Verge’s editorial staff is also unionized with the Writers Guild of America, East.

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FTC investigating OpenAI on ChatGPT data collection and publication of false information


OpenAI CEO Samuel Altman Testifies To Senate Committee On Rules For Artificial Intelligence
Photo by Win McNamee / Getty Images

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is investigating ChatGPT creator OpenAI over possible consumer harm through its data collection and the publication of false information.

First reported by The Washington Post, the FTC sent a 20-page letter to the company this week. The letter requests documents related to developing and training its large language models, as well as data security.

The FTC wants to get detailed information on how OpenAI vets information used in training for its models and how it prevents false claims from being shown to ChatGPT users. It also wants to learn more about how APIs connect to its systems and how data is protected when accessed by third parties.

The FTC declined to comment. OpenAI did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

This is the first major US investigation into OpenAI, which burst into the public consciousness over the past year with the release of ChatGPT. The popularity of ChatGPT and the large language models that power it kicked off an AI arms race prompting competitors like Google and Meta to release their own models.

The FTC has signaled increased regulatory oversight of AI before. In 2021, the agency warned companies against using biased algorithms. Industry watchdog Center for AI and Digital Policy also called on the FTC to stop OpenAI from launching new GPT models in March.

Large language models can put out factually inaccurate information. OpenAI warns ChatGPT users that it can occasionally generate incorrect facts, and Google’s chatbot Bard’s first public demo did not inspire confidence in its accuracy. And based on personal experience, both have spit out incredibly flattering, though completely invented, facts about myself. Other people have gotten in trouble for using ChatGPT. A lawyer was sanctioned for submitting fake cases created by ChatGPT, and a Georgia radio host sued the company for results that claimed he was accused of embezzlement.

US lawmakers showed great interest in AI, both in understanding the technology and possibly looking into enacting regulations around it. The Biden administration released a plan to provide a responsible framework for AI development, including a $140 million investment to launch research centers. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch also discussed chatbots’ potential legal liability earlier this year.

It is in this environment that AI leaders like OpenAI CEO Sam Altman have made the rounds in Washington. Altman lobbied Congress to create regulations around AI.

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OpenAI will use Associated Press news stories to train its models


An illustration of a cartoon brain with a computer chip imposed on top.
Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

OpenAI will train its AI models on The Associated Press’ news stories for the next two years, thanks to an agreement first reported by Axios. The deal between the two companies will give OpenAI access to some of the content in AP’s archive as far back as 1985.

As part of the agreement, AP will gain access to OpenAI’s “technology and product expertise,” although it’s not clear exactly what that entails. AP has long been exploring AI features and began generating reports about company earnings in 2014. It later leveraged the technology to automate stories about Minor League Baseball and college sports.

AP joins OpenAI’s growing list of partners. On Tuesday, the AI company announced a six-year deal with Shutterstock that will let OpenAI license images, videos, music, and metadata to train its text-to-image model, DALL-E. BuzzFeed also says it will use AI tools provided by OpenAI to “enhance” and “personalize” its content. OpenAI is also working with Microsoft on a number of AI-powered products as part of Microsoft’s partnership and “‘multibillion dollar investment” into the company.

“The AP continues to be an industry leader in the use of AI; their feedback — along with access to their high-quality, factual text archive — will help to improve the capabilities and usefulness of OpenAI’s systems,” Brad Lightcap, OpenAI’s chief operating officer, says in a statement.

Earlier this year, AP announced AI-powered projects that will publish Spanish-language news alerts and document public safety incidents in a Minnesota newspaper. The outlet also launched an AI search tool that’s supposed to make it easier for news partners to find photos and videos in its library based on “descriptive language.”

AP’s partnership with OpenAI seems like a natural next step, but there are still a lot of crucial details missing about how the outlet will use the technology. AP makes it clear it “does not use it in its news stories.”

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Congress is trying to stop discriminatory algorithms again


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Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

US policymakers hope to require online platforms to disclose information about their algorithms and allow the government to intervene if these are found to discriminate based on criteria like race or gender.

Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA) and Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA) reintroduced the Algorithmic Justice and Online Platform Transparency Act, which aims to ban the use of discriminatory or “harmful” automated decision-making. It would also establish safety standards, require platforms to provide a plain language explanation of algorithms used by websites, publish annual reports on content moderation practices, and create a governmental task force to investigate discriminatory algorithmic processes.

The bill applies to “online platforms” or any commercial, public-facing website or app that “provides a community forum for user-generated content.” This can include social media sites, content aggregation services, or media and file-sharing sites.

Markey and Matsui introduced a previous version of the bill in 2021. It moved to the Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Commerce but died in committee.

Data-based decision-making, including social media recommendation algorithms or machine learning systems, often lives in proverbial black boxes. This opacity sometimes exists because of intellectual property concerns or a system’s complexity.

But lawmakers and regulators worry this could obscure biased decision-making with a huge impact on people’s lives, well beyond the reach of the online platforms the bill covers. Insurance companies, including those working with Medicaid patients, already use algorithms to grant or deny patient coverage. Agencies such as the FTC signaled in 2021 that they may pursue legal action against biased algorithms.

Calls to make more transparent algorithms have grown over the years. After several scandals in 2018 — which included the Cambridge Analytica debacle — AI research group AI Now found governments and companies don’t have a way to punish organizations that produce discriminatory systems. In a rare move, Facebook and Instagram announced the formation of a group to study potential racial bias in its algorithms.

“Congress must hold Big Tech accountable for its black-box algorithms that perpetuate discrimination, inequality, and racism in our society – all to make a quick buck,” Markey said in a statement.

Most proposed regulations around AI and algorithms include a push to create more transparency. The European Union’s proposed AI Act, in its final stages of negotiation, also noted the importance of transparency and accountability.

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