Little Mix, left to right: Jade Thirlwall, Jesy Nelson, Perrie Edwards and Leigh-Anne Pinnock. [Pic Marcen 27/Wikipedia]
A messed-up computer-generated news article about popular beat combo Little Mix (shown above) recently exemplified the problems which face news bosses seeking to cut costs by getting rid of real-life journalists.
The story was broken about a month ago by Jim Waterson in The Guardian, when he reported that dozens of journalists from Microsoft’s MSN website and its Edge browser had been sacked after Microsoft decided to replace them with artificial intelligence software.
About 27 individuals employed by PA Media – formerly the Press Association – were told that they would lose their jobs after Microsoft decided to stop employing humans to select, edit and curate news articles on its homepages. The decision to end the contract with PA Media was taken at short notice as part of a global shift away from humans in favour of automated updates for news.
However, the plan backfired when it turned out that the software had difficulty picking out the correct mixed-race individual from file pictures. One of the first MSN articles led to a story about the Little Mix singer Jade Thirlwall’s personal reflections on racism being illustrated with a picture of her fellow band member Leigh-Anne Pinnock.
Thirlwall went on Instagram to protest: “@MSN If you’re going to copy and paste articles from other accurate media outlets, you might want to make sure you’re using an image of the correct mixed race member of the group.”
“This shit happens to @leighannepinnock and I ALL THE TIME that it’s become a running joke,” she said. “It offends me that you couldn’t differentiate the two women of colour out of four members of a group … DO BETTER!”
Apparently Thirlwall did not know that the image was selected by Microsoft’s artificial intelligence software.
Asked why Microsoft was deploying software that cannot tell mixed-race individuals apart, whether apparent racist bias could seep into deployments of the company’s artificial intelligence software by leading corporations, and whether the company would reconsider plans to replace the human editors with robots, a spokesman for the tech company said: “As soon as we became aware of this issue, we immediately took action to resolve it and have replaced the incorrect image.”
In advance of the publication of this article, staff at MSN were told to expect a negative article in the Guardian about alleged racist bias in the artificial intelligence software that will soon take their jobs.
And this is the bit from the “you couldn’t make this stuff up” department:
Because they are unable to stop the new robot editor selecting stories from external news sites such as the Guardian, the remaining human staff have been told to stay alert and delete a version of this article if the robot decides it is of interest and automatically publishes it on MSN.com. They have also been warned that even if they delete it, the robot editor may overrule them and attempt to publish it again. [Emphasis added]