The coming age of AI-induced apathy

In case you have not heard, the news division of that website that creates top-ten lists and online quizzes is being shut down.  Certain people, particularly on the political right, are about as glad as the political left would probably be if they heard that Breitbart had been canned.  When I searched for videos about BuzzFeed on YouTube, I found that none of the videos had yet reached 100K views.  That tells me that people in general also do not seem to care one way or another about the late Pulitzer Prize–winning organization.

The company apparently has been having financial difficulties for some time, as evidenced by its layoffs since 2019.  According to CEO Jonah Peretti, the shuttering of the news division is a part of shakeups by the parent company to streamline the overall organization.  It just no longer made sense for BuzzFeed Inc. to own both BuzzFeed News and Huffington Post at the same time.  The CEO also noted reasons for the shutdown including "a tech recession, a tough economy, a declining stock market," and others.  I find this point curious because my impression was that the Biden economy was healthy, with strong job gains, a rally in stocks, and wages finally beating inflation.

I feel as though I should mention that the reputed stock rally might be at risk of not happening.

The thing that I find far more concerning than the mere shutting down of a news site is that the company will focus more on A.I.-generated content.  To quote the CEO again, "And we will bring more innovation to clients in the form of creators, AI, and cultural moments that can only happen across BuzzFeed, Complex, HuffPost, Tasty and First We Feast."

I assume he means that A.I. will generate the fluff content.  However, if people are willing to accept that some of the website's content is written by A.I., then it is fair to contemplate whether or not viewers will be able to discern between created and generated content.  Ultimately speaking, I worry this could lead to people becoming apathetic to any and all online news content and therefore willfully becoming ignorant of nearly all issues.

It is safe to assume that people increasingly use A.I. as a research tool.  I came across an article where somebody asked ChatGPT some questions about recent events.  It obviously was interested in only one perspective.  It would not be an unreasonable expectation that people will also use A.I. systems like this to do of all their fact-checking.

Then again, A.I. will probably write more and more news articles that appear online.  Earlier this year, Peter van Buren showed A.I.'s current ability to write articles; it was not impressive.  Nonetheless, all that is needed is time for it to get better.

And in order to make the appearance of consensus, let us just add in a bunch of bots in the comments making canned responses.  Just look into Twitter bots.  Politicians have had their followings inflated with fake accounts for some time now.

It might become next to impossible to distinguish genuine opinions formulated by real people from talking points generated by A.I.  People already have extreme difficulty trusting media organizations, especially when they all sound the same.

This need not apply only to the political world.  There is no reason that powerful businesses would not take advantage of said apparatus to cover up any embarrassments or spread positive feelings.  Astroturfing is real, and companies like Amazon and Microsoft have done it before.

I can see people just giving up and no longer caring about anything they might read if they suspect that all they are seeing is computers receiving stories from computers, getting facts confirmed by other computers, and then being congratulated by even more computers.

Things might even become like behind the Iron Curtain, where people just stopped caring about anything going on since they knew that all the news in the papers was fake.  Perhaps that is a bit of a stretch, but I cannot help but feel that it might be where we are heading.

Then again, I could see the appeal of having bots take over all those functions.  It took me hours to come up with this article, do the research, check all the sources, and then write the actual article.

Breason Jacak is a pen name.

Image via Pxhere.

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