June 30, 2023

Over the last few installments, we’ve done our best to make you a savvy consumer of news. The Planetary Broadcast Network audience is now more skeptical, and keenly aware that there is always more than one side to a story. They cross-reference, avoiding the comfort of their favorite shared-sentiment echo chambers by checking out reporting from widely divergent media outlets, while keeping their eyes open for bias. In fact, bias is probably the biggest thing they consider when questioning the information that comes their way. They know that the motivations of the reporter are often as important as the report itself.

If this sounds like you, we applaud your discerning news palate, but there are new concerns on the horizon. All the tools we’ve suggested up to now assume one constant—the journalists generating the content are human. That is increasingly not the case. 

AI generated content is expanding rapidly, with a recent study listing 49 “news” sites that consist entirely of stories generated by AI. The stories usually lack bylines, or they’re accompanied by fake profiles, complete with stock photos of intelligent-looking thirty-somethings with degrees from unremarkable liberal arts schools.

The information is presented in a bland fashion, with repetitive and awkward phrasing, or circular logical structures. It may be very fact-heavy, but the facts included are sometimes presented out of context, or are outright fabrications. AI text may also contain odd word choices or transitions, and naturally, it will be devoid of in-depth analysis or personal experience. This might lead you to believe that AI text is easy to spot, but for those who only skim the headlines and the first paragraph, it can be very subtle.

For example, look at the following headlines; I had these put together by our intern, Vern. One was written by a popular AI chat program online, while Vern used his legendary barista skills to bribe our staff writers’ pool for the other two. Can you spot the one written by a bot?

  • “AI: Unlocking Potential and Advancing Society Safely and Responsibly”
  • “Emerging Threats: Unveiling the Potential Dangers of Unchecked AI Advancements”
  • “Striking the Balance: Exploring the Dual Nature of AI, Harnessing its Potential while Mitigating Risks”

To my trained editorial eye, the phrase “striking the balance” sounds a bit unnatural. I would have written “striking a balance” myself, but I’m not sure if that’s enough to convince me that it wasn’t written by a human being. I am also troubled by the first headline because it sounds a bit too much like a recruitment brochure, but again, I don’t find it so jarring that I’m convinced it has artificial origins. The middle headline contains the odd word choice “unveiling” instead of something more common like “uncovering” or “exploring.” I can’t decide if it’s the work of a robot, or just a bored human writer with perspicacity to burn. Despite my decades in journalism, I must admit that I could not be certain which was of silicon origin. 

When I told Vern I was stumped and asked him to point out the ringer, he seemed very pleased with himself. He confessed that he had interrupted the weekly poker game down in the office, and the writers’ pool had told him to get lost, so all three of the preceding headlines were created by AI software.

I was surprised that I couldn’t tell, but then a bigger problem occurred to me. Was I unable to tell because the quality of AI software has risen so much? Or was it because my expectations for the writers’ pool have fallen that low…?

While I pondered that over my regular two PM bourbon, Vern introduced me to the solution. We must fight fire with fire, or in this case, code with code. Thankfully, there is software that can detect content generated by AI—GPT-2 Output Detector, GLTR, and GPTZero are some of the prominent ones. Add them to your ‘skeptical news consumer tool box’ and stay tuned to the Planetary Broadcast Network for more on this and other stories of AI taking over the world. We’ll give you the news you need to spot the bots, clones, and conspirators in your life!