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Microsoft’s AI News Poll Ticks Off UK Newspaper

The Guardian submitted a complaint to Microsoft on Tuesday after a grotesquely inappropriate AI-generated poll next to a Guardian article.

(Photo by Connor Lin/The Daily Upside)

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What if instead of being deviously calculating, robots just turned out to be blazingly insensitive? You know, not end the world – just make it intolerable.

UK newspaper The Guardian submitted a complaint to Microsoft on Tuesday after the Microsoft Start aggregated news service featured a grotesquely inappropriate AI-generated poll next to a Guardian article about a suspected murder. Among other things, it seems the bots weren’t trained on ad placement.

Error in Judgment (Day)

While the full effects of generative AI on the news business are still rippling their way through the industry, The Guardian’s complaint against Microsoft gives a clue to the current state of play. For all its technological advances, AI is still devoid of editorial judgment, human decency, or plain common sense.

That didn’t stop Microsoft from adding a feature to Microsoft Start that uses AI to generate little polls. They pop up next to news articles, providing readers with a little extra content alongside the journalism it’s pulled in. The poll in question asked readers to vote on exactly what they thought led to the death of 21-year-old Lilie James, who was found dead with severe head wounds at a school in Australia. Anna Bateson, CEO of The Guardian’s parent company Guardian Media Group, wrote in a letter to Microsoft President Brad Smith that the AI-generated poll significantly harmed The Guardian’s reputation:

  • In her letter, Bateson said the incident highlighted: “the important role that a strong copyright framework plays in enabling publishers to be able to negotiate the terms on which our journalism is used.” Microsoft did not immediately respond when contacted by The Daily Upside for comment on Bateson’s letter.
  • The Guardian is one of the first outlets to openly attack a mainstream Big Tech company currently riding the AI-hype train, although Semafor reported in July that a collection of major publishers were forming an alliance to mount legal action against platforms whose large language models gulp up their news copy.

Rishi’ll Be Back: The Guardian’s letter comes the same week that UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is hosting an “AI Safety Summit,” an event that will culminate with Sunak sitting down for a livestream on X/Twitter with always reassuring CEO Elon Musk. Chris Stokel-Walker, a journalist with an upcoming book on the impact of AI, said the summit’s agenda goes: “heavy on the existential risks of a Terminator-style AI gaining super-intelligent sentience” rather than more immediate risks that, you know, exist.