Disruptive AI and Blabbing Chatbots: Are You Ready to Fight or Adapt?

Arielle Emmett
Picture of electrical circuits in shape of human brain to represent AI
Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

More than 20 years ago, Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen introduced the term “disruptive technologies,” explaining why so many tech companies intent on making incremental improvements to their product lines were doomed to fail. Radically different competitors emerged at the low end of the market, he noted, with products that were less expensive and worse performing (at least in the beginning), but much easier to use —propelling consumers to another level of expectation.

Today’s disrupter is Artificial Intelligence (AI), and it goes way beyond competitive product offerings. That’s why the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) will be offering an exciting, must-view AI webinar on Jan. 10, 2024, from 1:30-3 EST discussing AI’s major implications for freelance writers, content marketers, and authors. Details about the webinar appear at the end of this post.

“AI is changing the way writers work and its implications are enormous,” said ASJA President Emily Paulsen. “That’s why we at ASJA felt it was extremely important and timely to hold a webinar that can help freelancers navigate and prosper with this technology.”

It’s also why we’ve created this first in a series of occasional ASJA blog posts on Artificial Intelligence and how it will impact writers. Whether you are new to AI or quite familiar with the nuances (and alarms) raised by media reports, our aim is to describe and source accurately the latest information on AI developments and how they will influence, even disrupt, our industry.

What AI Is All About

AI is a “thinking” system touted for shortcutting computational times, performing pattern recognition from vast amounts of aggregated data, and instantly generating text, image, music, and video “answers” to consumer, scientific, and commercial questions. It challenges the core of what we believe to be human — the ability to create, synthesize, analyze, solve problems, and express ourselves uniquely.

Talk about disruption: The Author’s Guild has filed a class action lawsuit claiming copyright infringement by OpenAI, the inventor of the popular ChatGPT service. OpenAI is reportedly downloading e-books from pirated repositories and absorbing billions of books, copyrighted articles, and other content into its Chatbot engine without permission or paying licensing fees.

You may have heard about audio and video AI “deepfakes” produced by political interests threatening fair elections. Or AI consumer phishing scams. Or AI threats to privacy and security from scraping personal data off the Internet.

Media Jobs and AI

Media job loss due to AI is also a real concern.

In 2023, according to Public Citizen News, BuzzFeed fired 12% of its workforce, closing its news division and using OpenAI’s ChatGPT to generate content. A recent Futurism investigation found that Arena Group began publishing product reviews on Sports Illustrated sourced from an external, third-party company, AdVon Commerce, using AI-generated articles written by an author who seemed not to exist.

If you haven’t been following these types of developments, you’ll want to start.

In a stunningly short period, as The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists noted, we’ve already seen the release of AI-enabled chips, image generators, content automators, video production tools, personal organizing assistants, search engines from Bing and Bard, and chatbots like ChatGPT-4.     

The Big Unanswered Questions

How will we adapt to these changes?

Will we find new income streams by “training” chatbots to do some of our work? Will we fight for legislation to regulate AI’s use of copyrighted media — the stuff we write — and label AI-generated content explicitly?

Proponents argue that AI may soon exceed human cognition not only because it increases efficiencies and automates repetitive tasks – for example, gleaning resumés for HR approval based on the profiles of successful candidates.

Advanced AI, also known as Artificial General Intelligence (A.G.I.) will further enable “deep machine learning,” a process that invokes “layers of artificial neural networks to recognize patterns from large sets of unstructured or unlabeled data,” according to a Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists report. In effect, machines will learn from themselves, a capability fueling the push for “polished” content for corporate communication and a myriad of other applications.  

The Big AI Problem for Writers

But AI coding is also prone to errors (called “hallucinations”), which can be poison for writers.

Without guardrails and a deeper understanding of what Artificial Intelligence and its risks portend, the tech world may accomplish exactly the opposite of what it promises —escalating, not eliminating, the miseries of job loss, climate change, fake news, income inequality, phishing scams, fixed elections and, significantly for us, media and authorship replaced by bogus content.

“Businesses are deploying potentially dangerous A.I. tools faster than their harms can be understood or mitigated,” Cheyenne Hunt wrote in Public Citizen.

Introducing ASJA’s January 10 Webinar on Artificial Intelligence for Writers

On Jan. 10, 2024, ASJA will host its first webinar on Artificial Intelligence: what it is, how it works, and the impacts it will have on journalists, authors, and content providers.

Of particular focus will be discussions of OpenAI’s Chat GPT-4 and succeeding versions.  Panelists will also describe the different types of AI and how writers and researchers can use the tools effectively to research, outline, and brainstorm new ideas.

Our panelists will probe how the powers of generative AI will alter the practice of journalism and content provision; how advanced AI can be used ethically to conduct scientific, political, and journalistic research, and why writers, artists, content providers, educators, and economists are concerned — even alarmed — about copyright breaches, “learned bias” in AI programming, and the potential for job displacement.

Our Panelists

Harry Guinness, an Irish freelance technology writer and photographer whose work has been published in The New York Times, Zapier, Popular Science, Outside, Lifehacker, and dozens of other publications. He writes about technology, culture, science, and Artificial Intelligence in its many forms, and the ways they collide.  Guinness is among the best explainers of how AI works.

Jeanne Dietsch, a serial tech entrepreneur, blogger, and politician. An expert in AI and its implications for society, Jeanne founded and built MobileRobots into the leading provider of intelligent robots to universities and research facilities worldwide. She was a columnist for IEEE Robotics & Automation Magazine and has served as a New Hampshire state senator. She now writes about Granite State politics, the impacts of technology, and our tenuous democracy for her nonprofit, Granite State Matters.

Jon Christian, investigative reporter and executive editor of Futurism, a webzine examining futuristic science and technologies that has broken major stories about the misuse of AI by media outlets. Jon is interested in the power and politics of emerging tech, the space and biotech industries, public health, and the environment.

Linda M Whitaker, an award-winning author of international thrillers laced with science and technology and a leading innovator in data science, operations research, and artificial intelligence. In 2004, She co-founded Quantum Retail (serving as Chief Science Officer), a software company using complex systems and AI to further retail operations. She has worked as VP of Science Delivery, for Cognira, the leading artificial intelligence solutions provider for retailers and wholesalers. 

Among the topics we’ll cover in our January webinar:

  • What is AI and how does it work?
  • AI fundamentals: terms and definitions
  • Machine learning vs. Artificial Intelligence
  • AGI vs. narrow AI and ‘Generative AI.’
  • Benefits and risks to journalists and content providers using Chat GPT-4 and other tools for writing and research
  • Bias in AI training
  • Current status of copyright infringement suits and Biden Executive Orders on AI Development
  • Recognizing AI plagiarism
  • How to stop using AI when it goes too far.

We hope you’ll join ASJA’s AI webinar. Our speakers will allow ample time to field questions from our audience.

Register for the webinar here.

Arielle S Emmett earned her Ph.D. at the University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism. A member of ASJA, she is a contributing editor at Smithsonian Air & Space Magazine and a Fulbright Scholar Kenya (2018-2019). She has also been a visiting faculty member at several universities. Learn more at www.arielleemmett.com.