CNET comes clean about its use of AI writers, calls it 'an experiment'
CNET Money's editorial team has published 75 articles that were created using an 'AI assist'
➡️ The Shortcut Skinny: CNET AI writers
🤖 CNET has issued a statement addressing its use of AI engines to create content
🧪 Editor-in-Chief Connie Guglielmo says using an AI was “an experiment”
😲 Users would have to hover over the CNET Money byline to see if a story was assisted by an AI engine
🤨 Guglielmo says the 75 stories that were AI-assisted were fact-checked and edited by a human before being published
CNET has come clean about its use of AI to generate content – and it turns out it was just “an experiment”.
CNET’s sneaky use of AI engines was first uncovered by Gael Breton, co-founder of Authority Hacker, who found that the popular tech news outlet was quietly using “automation technology” to create financial explainer articles.
To discover whether an article was generated using AI, users would have to hover over the inconspicuous ‘CNET Money Staff’ byline to reveal the message: “This article was generated using automation technology and thoroughly edited and fact-checked by an editor on our editorial staff”.
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It appears AI stepped in to assist with CNET Money’s content on November 11 of last year, and so far the company has published 75 articles using the aid of artificial intelligence.
According to CNET’s Editor-in-Chief Connie Guglielmo, the popular technology website was simply trying to answer whether AI can indeed provide quality stories that will prove useful to audiences.
“For over two decades, CNET has built our reputation testing new technologies and separating the hype from reality from voice assistants to augmented reality to the metaverse,” Guglielmo said in a statement on CNET.
“In November, our CNET Money editorial team started trying out the tech to see if there's a pragmatic use case for an AI assist on basic explainers around financial services topics like What Is Compound Interest? and How To Cash a Check Without a Bank Account? So far we've published about 75 such articles.
“The goal: to see if the tech can help our busy staff of reporters and editors with their job to cover topics from a 360-degree perspective. Will this AI engine efficiently assist them in using publicly available facts to create the most helpful content so our audience can make better decisions? Will this enable them to create even more deeply researched stories, analyses, features, testing and advice work we're known for? “
Guglielmo goes on to stress that she uses the term “AI assist” because even though AI complied the story draft and even gathered some of the information necessary for the article, every post was “reviewed, fact-checked and edited by an editor with topical expertise” before it went live.
In a move to be more transparent, CNET has changed the byline from ‘CNET Money Staff’ to ‘CNET Money’ and users won’t have to hover over the byline to determine whether an article has been written with the help of AI. The author description for each article has also changed ever so slightly and now reads: “This story was assisted by an AI engine and reviewed, fact-checked and edited by our editorial staff”.
Despite Google claiming AI-generated content is against its guidelines, it appears that CNET’s articles slipped through the net. Perhaps more worryingly, a Google spokesperson told Futurism that it isn’t against AI content in general.
“Our ranking team focuses on the usefulness of content, rather than how the content is produced,” said public liaison for Search Danny Sullivan. “This allows us to create solutions that aim to reduce all types of unhelpful content in Search, whether it’s produced by humans or through automated processes.”
A sign of things to come?
CNET isn’t the first company to use AI and it certainly won’t be the last. The Associated Press has been using AI since 2015 to automatically write earnings reports, and has previously said it’s “one of the first news organizations to leverage artificial intelligence”.
Unlike CNET’s approach, however, the Associated Press uses AI to fill in the blanks of predetermined formats and has also been transparent from the start. CNET’s AI-assisted articles seem to be using something like OpenAI’s ChatGPT, which has exploded in popularity for its ability to write convincing copy on a wide range of topics using nothing but a few prompts.
Advances in AI, particularly in the creative space, has been a hot topic in recent months. We’ve seen AI image generators like Midjourney and DALL-E 2 let anyone create convincing pieces of artwork, and Microsoft recently announced a text-to-speech AI called VALL-E that can mimic a user’s voice with just a three-second sample.
With companies continuing to find ways to reduce costs and be more efficient, the future for writers and journalists is somewhat troubling, especially if Google rewards sites that turn towards AI.