AI in journalism

Here are 10 things I learned, and 10 things you also should know, about AI in journalism:

1. AI is not what you think

First of all: AI is probably not what you think. We have been biased by science fiction to form in our brains images of robots and dystopian futures where they fight with us for the control of the universe. But the “AI” we are talking about in the context of journalism is more similar to a spreadsheet than to any kind of robot.

With “AI,” we refer to “a collection of ideas, technologies, and techniques that relate to a computer system’s capacity to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence.”

There is an important distinction that you should keep in mind: The AI that currently exists is Artificial Narrow Intelligence. Computer programs that can perform a single task extremely well, even better than us. The AI depicted by science fiction is Artificial General Intelligence, and that’s nothing more than an idea right now. A hope for someone. The idea that machines can be made to think and function as the human mind.

All in all, I may go as far to say that it would be better if we all stopped calling it AI because of the misconceptions that these two letters inevitably create when they come together. Any time you read “AI” — or you are writing “AI” in your articles if you are a journalist — stop for a second to think what other word could replace it in that sentence. Maybe it’s an algorithm, or automation, or a computer program. That little replacement exercise will help your understanding, and your readers too.

And it’s not only about words either. AI as a field is deeply misrepresented in images as well. Because if you type “artificial intelligence” in your search engine, you get something like this:

Image search results for “AI.” Image: Screenshot

Humanoid robots, glowing brains, outstretched robot hands, and sometimes the Terminator. These images fuel misconceptions about AI and set unrealistic expectations on its capabilities. Better Images of AI decided to do something about it. It’s a non-profit initiative that is researching the issue and curating a repository of “better” images to represent AI.

2. AI is not stealing your job

AI is not stealing your job. Read this out loud: “AI is not stealing my job.” Let that sink in.

The truth is that artificial intelligence is not nearly as intelligent as it would need to be to replace you. It can take away some tasks that we normally do. But it’s us who decide what those tasks are, based on what tools we decide to build with AI.

It’s not a coincidence that, in the context of journalism, AI currently does mostly boring and repetitive tasks that we don’t really enjoy doing anyway. Things like transcribing interviewssifting through hundreds and hundreds of leaked documentsfiltering reader comments comments, writing the same story about companies’ financial earnings, for hundreds of companies, every three months. No one got into journalism because they were looking forward to doing those things again and again.

AI can do many things that can support your work and, as any other technological innovation before, it is changing newsroom roles. But then it’s up to us. We decide what to ask AI to do. By itself it doesn’t have the ambition, nor the ability to steal our jobs anytime soon.

3. You may not need AI

My goal working on JournalismAI is not to tell you that you should use AI. The mission of my team is to ask what problem you are trying to solve, and help you figure out if AI can be part of the solution.

Honestly, often it is not. Because you may be able to solve your challenges or achieve your goals with other tools that are easier to use, less expensive, and more secure.

Do not get into the AI space for FOMO, for fear of missing out. Do not give in to all the fancy headlines telling you that AI will revolutionize journalism or even “save it,” because it will not.

Do you want to use AI? Tell me your use case first.

4. You need a strategy

Now, let’s say you have done your homework. You analyzed your use case, understood what AI can and cannot do, and you reached the conclusion that indeed using AI could help you. It’s not time to celebrate yet because I have to warn you: Implementing AI can be hard. You need to think strategically.

Sometimes we talk about “implementing AI” as if it was one single process. But the reality is that depending on your use case and the type of technology (AI is an umbrella term with many subfields), that process may be completely different from the one you have to go through for a different use case.

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by Mattia Peretti, Global Investigative Journalism Network

Photo by Joshua Rawson-Harris on Unsplash

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