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  • Last modified 68 days ago (April 11, 2024)

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It may be artificial, but it sure isn't intelligent

We journalists keep getting asked how artificial intelligence will help report the news. Behaving a bit like a machine ourselves, we keep answering the same way: It won’t, not for most things.

That’s not how AI answers the same question. We asked a leading AI engine, and it told us: “AI can revolutionize the way news is reported in several ways.”

It claimed AI could produce news articles, verify accuracy, and reduce spread of misinformation. It also troublingly suggested that it could tailor news to fit what users want to hear. Basically, it can create an echo chamber even more dangerous than the one in social media and that has helped polarize the nation’s political environment.

AI isn’t human, of course. So, it doesn’t care — as we do — whether it appears close-minded. Being human, we decided to give AI the benefit of the doubt and put it to the test.

Last week, before Monday’s eclipse, we asked ChatGPT, the new darling of the AI world, to write a news story for us.

We told it, “Write a news story about the solar eclipse in Marion, Kansas.” We wanted to see whether it would do as it claims and pull together facts like how the eclipse here would be 88% total, start at 12:32 p.m., peak at 1:50 p.m., and end at 3:09 p.m.

It also could have included, as we did in our story presenting those facts, precautions about viewing it. And it could have listed, as we did, local events scheduled. They could have been gleaned by searching the Internet, which AI claims to do.

Instead, it gave new meaning to the term “fake news” by making up all manner of things about an event that hadn’t even happened yet. It wrote a completely bogus story as if the eclipse already had occurred. Details? It simply made them up.

It’s wonderfully positive, of course. That’s what would be preferred by cliques who seem to want to live in black-and-white Pleasantville. But it’s also downright wrong, even immoral.

Here’s the full text it wrote, complimenting a chamber of commerce and showing impacts on businesses that don’t exist:

Rare Solar Eclipse Enchants Spectators in Marion, Kansas

Marion, Kansas, became an unexpected epicenter of celestial spectacle as thousands of eclipse chasers and sky-watchers gathered to witness a rare solar eclipse. Under the clear Kansas skies, the small town, known for its picturesque landscapes and tranquil ambiance, transformed into a bustling hub of excitement and wonder on this memorable day.

As the moon began its dance across the sun, a hush fell over the crowd. Eyes turned upwards, clad in protective glasses, bore witness to the gradual covering of the sun, culminating in a breathtaking moment of totality. For a brief period, daylight faded into an eerie twilight, revealing stars and planets typically hidden by the sun’s glare.

The event drew a diverse crowd, from seasoned astronomers to families looking for an educational adventure. Local schools turned the occasion into a live classroom experience, emphasizing the importance of such phenomena in understanding our place in the cosmos.

Local businesses, too, capitalized on the influx of visitors. Restaurants, cafes, and souvenir shops reported record sales, with many offering eclipse-themed merchandise and meals. The Marion Chamber of Commerce had prepared well in advance, organizing viewing parties, workshops, and talks by experts in astronomy to enrich the experience for residents and visitors alike.

The solar eclipse in Marion was not just a rare astronomical event; it became a moment of community bonding and shared human experience. “It’s incredible to see so many people, from so many different places, come together in our small town to share in this moment,” remarked Marion’s mayor, reflecting the sentiment of unity and wonder that pervaded the day.

As the sun reemerged, the crowd dispersed, but the sense of awe and the memories of the day lingered. For many, this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, a reminder of the marvels of our universe and our fleeting place within it.

Photographs and videos of the eclipse, taken by professionals and amateurs alike, quickly circulated on social media platforms, offering those who couldn’t attend a glimpse into the day’s magic. Scientists and educators emphasized the importance of the data collected during the eclipse, contributing valuable insights into solar phenomena and the workings of our solar system.

Marion, Kansas, may return to its routine, but the eclipse has undoubtedly left an indelible mark on the town and its people. As the sun set on an unforgettable day, conversations turned to future celestial events and plans to chase the shadow of the moon again, wherever it may lead.

It’s a beautiful story. Too bad none of it is true. Imagine how AI would cover a city council or county commission meeting in its language reminiscent of “Newspeak” from the novel “1984.”

Then realize that a handful of influential people — often, government employees and their supporters — might prefer viewing the world through AI’s rose-colored electrons.

To them, anything other than what’s actually fake will be labeled as such and banned, at least for a while, by automated mind-control media like Facebook. Far-fetched? It happened last week with Kansas Reflector stories.

People talk with pride about “pulling the plug” on such things as landline phones and cable and satellite TV. They may be costly, but they’re not nearly as dangerous as AI news and social media algorithms. Those are the plugs we should be pulling.

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified April 11, 2024

 

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