News & events

From the editor's desk: The unhuman truth

First Quarter 2024 News & events

Kim Roberts, Editor.

It‘s early in the year, and it‘s fun to see what the predictions are for 2024 in the industrial world. One thing for sure is that generative AI will be big. Among all the hype, an over-the-top app that attracted my attention was NewsGPT.

It appears that NewsGPT is a reporter-less and bias-free news channel which is an alternative to normal news. It uses advanced proprietary AI algorithms and deep learning to automate the news production process. This includes selection of stories, research, putting together content, and delivery through AI avatars, which are basically virtual news presenters. NewsGPT says it is committed to eliminating fake news and biased reporting by avoiding human biases and preconceptions.

It can also offer personalised news. If you let it know your personal preferences and interests it can adapt the news content so you get news articles that are relevant and meaningful to you.

Tomorrow’s news today

Shortly after launching NewsGPT, the team came up with an even wilder offering, the world’s first news forecast. This uses predictive science in the same way as today’s weather forecasting.

The first forecast reported the results of Sunday football games in the USA still to be played. It seemed to me that there was a bit of a shortage of information on how these matched the actual results. But as NewsGPT CEO, Alan Levy said: “The results are less important than the methodology, our present focus isn’t accuracy. It’s about merging deep learning and the world of news forecasting.” The team, which includes MIT mathematicians and Cambridge machine learning experts, aims to forecast sports results, market trends, Oscar winners and election results, among many others. Levy says that just as weather forecasts evolved from hocus pocus to vital decision-making tools, NewsGPT envisions a similar path for its news forecasts.

A horrible idea

Not everyone is impressed. Futurism magazine calls it “an absolutely horrible idea”. Transparency is an issue. NewsGPT is not very forthcoming about the language models it uses. Language-generating AIs also have a tendency to hallucinate − to just make it up. They don’t know what words mean, they just predict what might come next in a sentence.

Another issue is plagiarism. Journalists are starting to find that stories they have written are being extracted and remixed with other sources in NewsGPT. AI programs assemble articles by processing vast amounts of publicly available information. Even the best automated stories are basically news clips, with no new findings or original reporting. They can’t go out and report or ask questions, so their stories will never break new ground or come up with a scoop. NewsGPT articles also don’t link back to references giving facts and figures, which have to come from somewhere.

What’s it like?

I decided to check out the NewsGPT website to see what this is all about. What I saw were some talking heads, the avatars, which were a little bit creepy; and a lot of the images looked like they came out of a comic book. I tried some of the articles. In one, the photo of President Biden had only three fingers, and in another King Charles looked like James Bond. The writing could have been human-produced, but it was bland and rigid, just like the AI-generated articles that we see online nowadays − not very exciting. It was kind of robotic. It’s not supposed to be biased, but a report on a drone attack in Ukraine brought in some phrases like ‘tragically’ and ‘heartbreaking discovery’ which looked contrived to me. Normal news doesn’t have that kind of emotion.

I tried searching on South Africa but there wasn’t much. However, I thought a report on the green ammonia revolution was quite interesting; it pulled together most of the available information in a logical way. I think NewsGPT could be useful if something big happens. It could gather all the news reports into one place so you don’t have to read bits and pieces.

To my disappointment, the forecasting section was blank, I was really hoping for something interesting there.

NewsGPT is still a beta version, so it’s probably too early to draw any real conclusions. Humans bring invaluable insights, critical thinking, and investigative skills that AI can’t replicate. Human reporters can contextualise events, interview people with empathy, and detect subtleties that machines might not see. Meanwhile, AI is challenging this model and redefining the future of journalism. I’m sure that it will adapt and evolve, and find new opportunities. It seems to me that AI will complement human journalism, not replace it.


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