Microsoft replaces dozens of journalists with AI

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There are plenty of uses for artificial intelligence (AI). Almost every industry can benefit from smart algorithms streamlining work and making things more efficient. However, journalism isn’t the first area that comes to mind.

Nonetheless, Microsoft plans to start increasingly using AI in its news operations. It is reportedly laying off dozens of journalists and editorial staff members of its Microsoft News and MSN organizations. Their positions will be filled by AI algorithms that curate news stories for Microsoft’s various outlets.

Breaking Tradition

Although choosing news stories isn’t usually its specialty, AI is great at making decisions. Behind the scenes, it is used by many organizations to find trending content early in its lifecycle and get it in front of readers. AI has even tried its “hand” at writing marketing copy and had great success.

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Still, the idea of using an algorithm to replace human editors is futuristic. Most of the time, human editors give the final approval before a piece is run.

Following its recent decision, Microsoft said, “Like all companies, we evaluate our business on a regular basis. This can result in increased investment in some places and, from time to time, re-deployment in others. These decisions are not the result of the current pandemic.”

The last part of that statement is particularly notable. While more than 40 million Americans are out of work thanks to COVID-19, the move to use AI over human journalists is more a sign of the times than of the pandemic.

The layoffs will take place at the end of June and primarily affect Microsoft contractors. Those employed in full-time positions with the company will remain on its payroll. Some 50 news contractors in the U.S. and 27 in the U.K. will feel the effects of the layoffs. The same individuals are currently in charge of choosing, editing, and curating stories for Microsoft’s SANE (search, ads, News, Edge) division.

Microsoft has been in the news business for more than 25 years since it launched MSN back in 1995. Since then, the company grew significantly. It said nearly two years ago when Microsoft News launched, that it had “more than 800 editors working from 50 locations around the world.”

Will it Work?

Though it seems drastic, Microsoft’s push to use more AI technology in its news offerings has been going on for several months. Along with its own efforts, the company has encouraged publishers and other journalists to use AI in their own work as well.

Microsoft uses its algorithms to scan for content, process it, and filter it. The systems can even suggest photos that can be paired with a story.

Moving forward, it will be interesting to see how the decision to push a more automated front works. After all, AI can still make mistakes. When it does, they are usually more blatant than human-made errors.

While AI is certainly a technology of the future, this initiative could go either way. The recently unemployed journalists may soon retake their posts if AI isn’t able to catch on as an editor.

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