Journalism Matters: Buckle up for AI
Sogar and I, strangers then, happened to sit next to each other at the gate, waiting for our flight to Las Vegas, working on our laptops.
“Great we can,” I said to his nods. Soon we were acquaintances enough to know he was visiting a friend in Chicago on a working vacation, and I would be working through a visit to Southern California to see a niece get married.
With that, the editor and the software engineer got back to it, missing our cues to join the line for the connecting flight until the very end. Then, wouldn’t you know it, we sat in the same short row on the plane, me at my usual window and he on the aisle.
A dinosaur of a medium, half a millennium old, has been a whitewater of technological change since I began, every year a leap until I could put out my paper from anywhere, including plenty of times and plenty of papers in airports.
Sogar’s whole job is a recent evolutionary breakthrough by comparison. He and others like him made my work today possible.
“Have you heard of ChatGPT?” he asked.
“This will change everything,” I said. “I’m not thinking so much about ChapGPT as what comes next.” More nods.
ChatGPT, after all, is the Australopithecus of this form of AI.
“Australopithecus?” he asked.
“You know, like Lucy?” I said.
He got it. True. ChatGPT will evolve and extremely rapidly. But still, hallucinations and all, the biases of humanity baked into the repository, the bot remains remarkable.
My daughter uses it or a cousin AI to extend her reach for her marketing business. Some instructions and out pops an email or a newsletter, say. Make it less formal for one batch and more so for another, she instructs. Done. She changes some language to make it more hers and sends. Same with social media posts. Now she has scale.
My son, also a newspaper guy, uses artificial intelligence for sales presentations, and to employ strategic mixes tailored for specific prospects that sales people can use effectively, way more so than if they did the research themselves. His company aims to stay in business even if print disappears. AI will help them do it.
The Associated Press and Bloomberg for years have used AI to generate game summaries and earnings reports automatically. Actually, that’s a precursor, simple as a couple of algorithms strung together. Machine stuff. Sogar said the menu will widen considerably.
My new friend knows AI has been around forever and that ChatGPT is just a blooming of consciousness: the general public’s a little belatedly. But the bot’s launch at the end of November also heralds a big shift in generative AI from here. By January there were more than 100 million users, making this the fastest growing software application in history until Threads popped in July.
I confess I wonder — though I’m told this is silly — about the gap between generative and sentient. I’m guessing this chasm narrows from here, at least in the human perception of the black box in which AI operates. The large language model learns on its own. Sogar needs AI, or soon enough will, to do his job.
Some newsrooms are using AI to enhance headlines for maximum online reach. I can see AI easily designing and headlining our print pages almost instantly vs. a process today that sucks up most of Tuesdays and Fridays for The Park Record. And I trust AI within an ecosystem for work like this.
The mischief lies in the open internet. ChatGPT is a most unreliable journalist, which I realize is saying something. But even here, the bot falls somewhere around Wikipedia for quick guidance in a directional way, if off with some of the particulars. That’s valuable for a reporter on deadline. An AI could do it reasonably accurately based on local government data and early human reporting. Just ask the right questions, give the right instruction, and voila. If not ready to publish, a big boost that way.
AI today can line edit for spelling, grammar and style — Associated Press or Chicago, or New York Times if we want that.
The potential in propaganda is endless. These models can inflict real havoc in an already poisoned environment, chockful of humanity, all our greatness and all our many evils.
Our newsroom doesn’t use AI, and I’m not sure how much my new colleagues have played with ChatGPT. As of May, 14% of adult Americans had interacted with it, though 58% were aware of its existence.
Meantime, similar applications are blooming everywhere. Our first use of AI may well be in trying to make sense of what’s out there and all the ethical quandaries that come with this.
Don Rogers is the editor of The Park Record. He can be reached at email@example.com or (970) 376-0745.
Emotion permeated the air last Friday night as snow drifted down from the heavens around Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, reflecting in the orange glow of the Olympic and Paralympic cauldron. On stage were three generations of athletes. Some of them basked in the glow of memories from the days they won their gold, silver or bronze medals, while younger future stars had big eyes from sharing moments with their heroes.
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