Microsoft replaces writers with AI journalists

Are computers really ready to tell us stories?

In a move that is particularly chilling for writers and journos the world over, Microsoft has cut a swathe through its workforce of writers on MSN.com and replaced them with Terminators, sorry AI journalists so have reported a myriad of news sources in the last few hours.

Of course, nothing is as it seems, although it is true that Microsoft has let got almost 100 news freelancers and contractors (50 in the USA and 27 in the UK) and their previous tasks of choosing, editing and curating stories for the MSN website has now gone to Artificial Intelligence.

I don’t know if you have been on MSN.com recently (no, me neither) but it’s hardly surprising that a tech giant is looking to use the tech it is heavily invested in to trim costs.

We have seen the rise of AI editing software such as Grammarly and Microsoft’s own Editor software built into Office of late so it almost seems a natural step to put it into action in terms of the tweaking of articles.

Where things get slightly hazier is around the article selection and it would be nice to know on what criteria the AI will select what gets published to the wider world. It would be potentially easy to slew the bias one way or another towards certain types of news and features. We know we have problems for example if we suddenly start seeing an increase in stories based around robot fashion, or weaponry designed to eradicate the human race.

But joking aside, any journo AI or human needs to have a sense of moral and editorial integrity (I know right, who’d have thought it – maybe we are better with machines).

Microsoft told the Seattle Times that, “Like all companies, we evaluate our business on a regular basis. This can result in increased investment in some places and, from time to time, re-deployment in others. These decisions are not the result of the current pandemic.”

Ironically, that statement itself sounds like it was written by a machine.

The move hasn’t gone down so well with employees as you might expect with one of the terminated (excuse the pun) contractors who wished to remain anonymous saying, “It’s been semi-automated for a few months but now it’s full speed ahead. It’s demoralizing to think machines can replace us but there you go.’’

Hard times ahead for us writers, although are you completely sure I’m not AI? I could be an algorithm for all you know.

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Been around consoles and computers since his parents bought him a Mattel Intellivision. Spent over a decade as editor of popular print-based video games and computer magazines, including a market-leading PlayStation title. Has written tech content for GamePro, Official Australian Playstation Magazine, PlayStation Pro, Amiga Action, Mega Action, ST Action, GQ, Loaded, and the Daily Mirror. Twitter: @iampaulmcnally

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