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posted by hubie on Sunday November 05, @03:29AM   Printer-friendly
from the all-the-news-that's-fit-to-print dept.

The company pumps out trash-tier AI content, then waits until it's called out publicly to quietly delete it and move onto the next trainwreck:

We've known that Microsoft's MSN news portal has been pumping out a garbled, AI-generated firehose for well over a year now.

The company has been using the website to distribute misleading and oftentimes incomprehensible garbage to hundreds of millions of readers per month.

As CNN now reports, that's likely in large part due to MSN's decision to lay off most of the human editors at MSN over the years. In the wake of that culling, the company has redirected its efforts toward AI, culminating in a $10 billion stake in ChatGPT maker OpenAI earlier this year.

And if MSN presents a vision of how the tech industry's obsession with AI is going to play out in the information ecosystem, we're in for a rough ride.

Beyond republishing stories by small, unknown publishers — like the one that infamously called former NBA player Brandon Hunter, who passed away unexpectedly at the age of 42 in September, "useless" in its headline — Microsoft using a variety of tactics to shoehorn AI into its MSN.

Sometimes it's even generating AI content itself, like when it published and then deleted a bizarre travel guide to Ottawa, Canada that recommended visiting a food bank "on an empty stomach."

"This article has been removed and we are investigating how it made it through our review process," Microsoft's senior director of communications said in the wake of the embarrassment.

Most recently, the tech giant landed in hot water for running a disgusting AI-generated poll next to a syndicated article by The Guardian about a woman who'd been found dead in Australia.

The tasteless poll questioned whether readers thought the woman had died by suicide, murder, or accident, noting in a disclaimer that the poll was part of Microsoft's "insights from AI."

The Guardian accused Microsoft of "damaging its journalistic reputation" by publishing the poll. In response, a Microsoft spokesperson said that the company has deactivated its poll feature and is "investigating the cause of the inappropriate content."

MSN has also published other junk content, including bogus stories about fishermen catching mermaids and Bigfoot spottings in the wake of ditching its human editors in favor of automation.

Noticing a pattern yet? The company pumps out trash-tier AI content, then waits until it's called out publicly to quietly delete it and move onto the next trainwreck.

[...] Now that Microsoft has transitioned to a "personalized feed" that is "tailored by an algorithm to the interests of our audiences" back in 2020, as a spokesperson told the broadcaster, a lot of badly researched, and easily disproven content has the potential to be seen by millions of users.

"We are committed to addressing the recent issue of low quality articles contributed to the feed and are working closely with our content partners to identify and address issues to ensure they are meeting our standards," a spokesperson told CNN this week, following the ill-advised poll.

Whether the company's concerns will result in meaningful action, however, remains to be seen. It certainly doesn't bode well for the future of AI in media, an industry already facing considerable economic headwinds.


Original Submission

Related Stories

Microsoft in Deal With Semafor to Create News Stories With Aid of AI Chatbot 18 comments

https://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2024/02/microsoft-in-deal-with-semafor-to-create-news-stories-with-aid-of-ai-chatbot/

Microsoft is working with media startup Semafor to use its artificial intelligence chatbot to help develop news stories—part of a journalistic outreach that comes as the tech giant faces a multibillion-dollar lawsuit from the New York Times.

As part of the agreement, Microsoft is paying an undisclosed sum of money to Semafor to sponsor a breaking news feed called "Signals." The companies would not share financial details, but the amount of money is "substantial" to Semafor's business, said a person familiar with the matter.

[...] The partnerships come as media companies have become increasingly concerned over generative AI and its potential threat to their businesses. News publishers are grappling with how to use AI to improve their work and stay ahead of technology, while also fearing that they could lose traffic, and therefore revenue, to AI chatbots—which can churn out humanlike text and information in seconds.

The New York Times in December filed a lawsuit against Microsoft and OpenAI, alleging the tech companies have taken a "free ride" on millions of its articles to build their artificial intelligence chatbots, and seeking billions of dollars in damages.

[...] Semafor, which is free to read, is funded by wealthy individuals, including 3G capital founder Jorge Paulo Lemann and KKR co-founder Henry Kravis. The company made more than $10 million in revenue in 2023 and has more than 500,000 subscriptions to its free newsletters. Justin Smith said Semafor was "very close to a profit" in the fourth quarter of 2023.

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Original Submission

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  • (Score: 5, Touché) by jb on Sunday November 05, @04:48AM (7 children)

    by jb (338) on Sunday November 05, @04:48AM (#1331503)

    Who on earth would trust as a "news" source a company that's spent the last half century "shamelessly pumping [out] ... garbage" software?

    I'd imagine it was fairly obvious all along that their side-line of garbage was likely to be at least as bad as their main line of garbage.

    • (Score: 2) by driverless on Sunday November 05, @05:42AM

      by driverless (4770) on Sunday November 05, @05:42AM (#1331506)

      Also, how can you tell the difference between the non-AI generated garbage on MSN and the AI-generated garbage? Is it tagged or something?

    • (Score: 4, Interesting) by bzipitidoo on Sunday November 05, @01:06PM (2 children)

      by bzipitidoo (4388) on Sunday November 05, @01:06PM (#1331532) Journal

      Main line of garbage? The business world has a pathological love of MS Office. Most still think of it as "you get what you pay for", and therefore libre software can't possibly be good quality. Even when MS repeatedly abuses them, putting them on the old upgrade treadmill, insisting on inspecting their operations to assure they aren't committing any naughty piracy, declaring that cracks are malware whether or not they really are, spying on them while lying that the telemetry is really for their own good, businesses keep on coming back like abused and battered spouses who more than half believe the abuse is justified. Think that's the way the world works, especially if they are themselves abusive and manipulative of their own customers.

      To be extra sure the customers don't stray, MS further spews out FUD, cleverly insinuating that, for instance, because LibreOffice isn't backed by a megacorp, it just can't be as capable and reliable. More than once, I've spotted an astroturf post trying to claim so, with vague and general language. When I challenged them to provide specifics, they tried more bull, and when I pinned them down, they went silent. I wonder if the AI has at least got that lesson down, and is now spreading MS Office propaganda. It would be like MS to prioritize self-serving propaganda.

      • (Score: 3, Insightful) by mcgrew on Sunday November 05, @08:43PM

        by mcgrew (701) <publish@mcgrewbooks.com> on Sunday November 05, @08:43PM (#1331576) Homepage Journal

        Most still think of it as "you get what you pay for"

        The wise know that lie is the salesman's tool. You almost always pay for when you get, but believing you always get what you pay for is incredibly foolish. Very often I'll fine a cheap item even better than an expensive alternative.

        Open source software is an excellent example.

        --
        mcgrewbooks.com mcgrew.info nooze.org
      • (Score: 3, Insightful) by jb on Monday November 06, @05:39AM

        by jb (338) on Monday November 06, @05:39AM (#1331617)

        Most still think of it as "you get what you pay for", and therefore libre software can't possibly be good quality.

        Linus Torvalds' famous line comes to mind: "software is like sex: it's better when it's free."

        With hardware you often do "get what you pay for", but that's because manufacturing has unit costs; distributing software doesn't.

    • (Score: 2, Insightful) by crafoo on Sunday November 05, @03:11PM

      by crafoo (6639) on Sunday November 05, @03:11PM (#1331545)

      who would trust a news company that employed people from "The Voice of America", using the same tactics? It turns out, most of America. We are so dumb. You probably have no idea how little respect for you that our elite class has.

    • (Score: 2) by RedGreen on Sunday November 05, @03:25PM

      by RedGreen (888) on Sunday November 05, @03:25PM (#1331546)

      "Who on earth would trust as a "news" source a company that's spent the last half century "shamelessly pumping [out] ... garbage" software?"

      That is the first thing I thought when reading the article summary same old story from them it is the same with everything they do.

      --
      "I modded down, down, down, and the flames went higher." -- Sven Olsen
    • (Score: 2) by krishnoid on Sunday November 05, @07:01PM

      by krishnoid (1156) on Sunday November 05, @07:01PM (#1331568)

      Considerirng their keyboards, mice, and other hardware were pretty high quality, it's a bit ironic they jettisoned the editors that would actually benefit from using their highest-quality products.

  • (Score: 2) by Rosco P. Coltrane on Sunday November 05, @08:09AM (1 child)

    by Rosco P. Coltrane (4757) on Sunday November 05, @08:09AM (#1331514)

    OpenAI sold them an overpriced internet scraper / rehasher and it delivers exactly what it was fed on. What a surprise...

    All I can say is: good scam Sam. You're one of the few who managed to con Microsoft out of serious money. Sadly at the expense of society as a whole though...

    • (Score: 1) by khallow on Sunday November 05, @12:06PM

      by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Sunday November 05, @12:06PM (#1331528) Journal

      You're one of the few who managed to con Microsoft out of serious money. Sadly at the expense of society as a whole though...

      It's a market-generated solution to the Microsoft problem. I think the benefit to society is greater than it first looks.

  • (Score: 5, Interesting) by Opportunist on Sunday November 05, @10:51AM (20 children)

    by Opportunist (5545) on Sunday November 05, @10:51AM (#1331522)

    Seriously. Good. It serves two purposes.

    First, the obvious one. It gets people pissed about the slew of junk "news".

    The less obvious one is that AI "learns" from reading articles. And since AI cannot detect articles written by AI, as we have learned with the "plagiarism detection" debacle, what happens is that AI deteriorates with every generation. Instead of "quality" information created by humans, a larger and larger percentage of input will be AI generated garbage, until the information the model used to build its "world view" is sufficiently bogus that the output is utter and completely worthless rubbish.

    And maybe then we finally learn that this track isn't going to work out.

    • (Score: 2) by Rosco P. Coltrane on Sunday November 05, @11:34AM (11 children)

      by Rosco P. Coltrane (4757) on Sunday November 05, @11:34AM (#1331525)

      "quality" information created by humans

      Where is it located? I'd be interested.

      • (Score: 4, Touché) by kazzie on Sunday November 05, @01:25PM (2 children)

        by kazzie (5309) Subscriber Badge on Sunday November 05, @01:25PM (#1331534)

        It's all quality information, but opinion differs on what kind of quality it is.

        Just like those websites that declare "we value your privacy": the exact value depends on who's reading the sentence.

        • (Score: 4, Insightful) by Opportunist on Sunday November 05, @03:07PM (1 child)

          by Opportunist (5545) on Sunday November 05, @03:07PM (#1331543)

          I always read that as "we put a value on your privacy".

          With the implied "and we're gonna sell it".

          • (Score: 2) by kazzie on Monday November 06, @04:25AM

            by kazzie (5309) Subscriber Badge on Monday November 06, @04:25AM (#1331614)

            Sadly, most people read it the other way (which is what the websites hope for).

      • (Score: 5, Insightful) by pTamok on Sunday November 05, @01:40PM (4 children)

        by pTamok (3042) on Sunday November 05, @01:40PM (#1331536)

        So would I, so would I.

        People have got used to 'free' news - for example, the idea of paying for a daily newspaper is utterly foreign to the younger generation -, so Do Not Want to pay for news curated by subject matter experts.

        Newspaper and 'traditional' media were, and are, by no means perfect, but better than what we have - instant access to biased opinions masquerading as news.

        It's not going to be pretty when everything comes crashing down - we might be achieving the beginning of the crash with the Internet swamped with Machine Learning/Large Language Model generated content. Independent, unbiased sources of information will become comparatively rarer than hen's teeth. Traditional newspapers were not unbiased - but you could read a selection to get an overview - cue the classic Yes, Prime Minister Series 2 Episode 4 quotation on newspapers:

        James Hacker:
        I know exactly who reads the papers. The Daily Mirror is read by people who think they run the country. The Guardian is read by people who think they ought to run the country. The Times is read by people who actually do run the country. The Daily Mail is read by the wives of the people who run the country. The Financial Times is read by people who own the country. The Morning Star is read by the people who think the country should be run by another country. And the Daily Telegraph is read by people who think it is.

        Sir Humphrey Appleby:
        Prime Minister, what about the people who read the Sun?

        Bernard Woolley:
        The Sun readers don't care who runs the country, as long as she's got big tits.

        The older I get, the more I think death will be a relief from all the idiocies piling up around me. I have more and more sympathy for grumpy old men, and am well on the way to being one, if I haven't already become one.

        • (Score: 5, Insightful) by Rosco P. Coltrane on Sunday November 05, @01:55PM (2 children)

          by Rosco P. Coltrane (4757) on Sunday November 05, @01:55PM (#1331537)

          am well on the way to being one, if I haven't already become one.

          So was I, until I realized three things:

          - You can rant all you want, nothing will change. It's extremely frustrating to know what's happening, nobody listens and nothing changes, and I have better things to do with the hours I have left on this dirtball than get mad at stuff I can't do anything about.

          - The youngs who don't have your life experience but think they know as much as you do look at you like you're a raving lunatic. Or worse, they look at you with an air of pity when you're old enough. That too is totally infuriating, and nothing you can do anything about either. And if you're honest, you were exactly like that at their age. I have better things to do with the hours I left left on this dirtball than trying to convince people who refuse to listen to me.

          - Most importantly, it's not my future. It's theirs. I'm just along for the ride. I shouldn't try to change thing because it's their future to shape as they wish, and I'm likely to want to roll the clock back to a time they've never known and that's not the right solution.

          So I've decided to shut up, try to ignore the disasters that I can see coming and enjoy the present.

          I'm an inconspicuous older man who doesn't say anything and doesn't annoy anyone - and in fact is completely ignored by everyone. And that's just fine by me.

          • (Score: 3, Interesting) by PiMuNu on Sunday November 05, @04:46PM

            by PiMuNu (3823) on Sunday November 05, @04:46PM (#1331553)

            One can even try to fix it a bit (by which I mean things like local volunteer groups).

          • (Score: 2) by krishnoid on Sunday November 05, @09:17PM

            by krishnoid (1156) on Sunday November 05, @09:17PM (#1331584)

            tl;dr: It may be worthwhile to hang out at the kids' table every so often.

            If you share an interest in (relatively juvenile) topics with some of the youngs -- cartoons, gaming, etc., then being in direct touch with them (e.g., fan conventions), treating them like peers, and contributing in conversations where you can with your knowledge and partaking and asking questions where they've specialized (and where they have questions that they have trouble formulating), your recent experience can prove to be particularly valuable.

            Yesterday we had the complaints about NPM's quality assurance [soylentnews.org], and earlier this week I had a friend going to Agile training with a lot of fresh college grads, and insisted that bring up Therac-25 [wikipedia.org], how space shuttle software [fastcompany.com] was written, and SQLite's testing approach [sqlite.org]. Who else except the oldeners can provide this kind of story about grand vision, the pressures behind corner-cutting, where things failed a few years down the road, and regulatory fallout and subsequent legislation?

            Maybe I'm mistaken about this, but I've started modeling these interactions less as formalized instruction and passing information from expert to beginner, and more as a permanent potluck between a mix of peers -- particularly with the democratization of learning that the Internet provides. You can bring what you make or get from others (or nothing at all), sample everything from beginners to professional chefs from all ages, talk to them a little, find what you like and what's missing, come back later and try more, and know that some people will eventually retire and that the potluck will continue on. It's sad when you leave, but your recipes (wisdom and research) will always be around to try out and build on.

        • (Score: 2) by mcgrew on Sunday November 05, @09:01PM

          by mcgrew (701) <publish@mcgrewbooks.com> on Sunday November 05, @09:01PM (#1331579) Homepage Journal

          The newspapers committed suicide by greed. It actually costs money to buy paper and ink, employ typesetters and operators, and transport and deliver the newspapers. That was accepted in the old days. It was assumed by everyone that bought a newspaper that the cost paid for the ink, paper, and transportation and the ads paid for the content.

          They got greedy. All an online newspaper costs is the cost of writers; my websites cost for a year is less what my internet access costs for a month. Web newspapers should be able to live on the advertising. A local weekly paper [illinoistimes.com] does, even delivering physical copies to local businesses to give away for free. If you can give away a free physical newspaper, you should be able to give away a free virtual newspaper.

          --
          mcgrewbooks.com mcgrew.info nooze.org
      • (Score: 3, Informative) by Opportunist on Sunday November 05, @03:10PM (2 children)

        by Opportunist (5545) on Sunday November 05, @03:10PM (#1331544)

        Quality information does exist, but you have to dig deep sometimes. And it is never available for free.

        The best bet you have today to get a mostly complete picture of what's going on is to get a bunch of quality papers of different political leaning and read them all. At least the political and the economic sections. You can skip the funnies, the celebrity crap and the classifieds (actually, you should probably skip the papers that have those sections).

        Yes, that will take you an hour per day. Like I said, it's not gonna be free. It will cost you time AND money.

        • (Score: 2) by PiMuNu on Sunday November 05, @04:48PM (1 child)

          by PiMuNu (3823) on Sunday November 05, @04:48PM (#1331554)

          I find finance papers are useful. They have a vested interest in reporting what is actually happening (albeit with a slant towards the likely effect on share prices)

          • (Score: 2) by Opportunist on Monday November 06, @02:05PM

            by Opportunist (5545) on Monday November 06, @02:05PM (#1331646)

            True. You'll also find that local papers are usually closer to reality simply because they know that too many people could (and most certainly would) call bullshit if they tried.

    • (Score: 2) by Reziac on Monday November 06, @04:16AM (6 children)

      by Reziac (2489) on Monday November 06, @04:16AM (#1331612) Homepage

      A whole lot of "informational" sites have been bot-generated for around 20 years now. But they were just scrape-and-regurgitate. They weren't writing their own.

      But lately when I trip over one of these sites (which clutter up search results, so there are always lots of them to cull through) the vomit presented is likely to be garbled.

      AI regurgitating crap spewed by a different AI would certainly explain this.

      --
      And there is no Alkibiades to come back and save us from ourselves.
      • (Score: 3, Informative) by Opportunist on Monday November 06, @07:59AM (5 children)

        by Opportunist (5545) on Monday November 06, @07:59AM (#1331620)

        Allow me to introduce you to the "-site:" search query modifier.

        • (Score: 2) by Reziac on Monday November 06, @02:41PM (4 children)

          by Reziac (2489) on Monday November 06, @02:41PM (#1331652) Homepage

          Oh, nice. I knew about " site: " but not that you could do " -site: "

          Generally would need a list of not-sites long as your arm, but when there's a persistent nuisance (as I did recently encounter!) that would be useful. Thanks!

          --
          And there is no Alkibiades to come back and save us from ourselves.
          • (Score: 3, Funny) by Opportunist on Tuesday November 07, @04:08PM (3 children)

            by Opportunist (5545) on Tuesday November 07, @04:08PM (#1331888)

            Generally would need a list of not-sites long as your arm

            Let me put it that way: I do know that Google searches have a character limit...

            • (Score: 2) by Reziac on Tuesday November 07, @04:27PM (2 children)

              by Reziac (2489) on Tuesday November 07, @04:27PM (#1331894) Homepage

              Oh dear....

              One thing I found after switching (ages ago) first to Startpage, then to DDG. was that I didn't have to negate near as much junk. Google was already unusable by my lights; there were times when I couldn't come up with enough negatives to achieve the desired positive.

              Pretty much the usuals:
              https://duckduckgo.com/duckduckgo-help-pages/results/syntax/ [duckduckgo.com]

              Now if someone would give us back the ability to include punctuation in an exact search...

              --
              And there is no Alkibiades to come back and save us from ourselves.
              • (Score: 2) by Opportunist on Wednesday November 08, @09:28PM (1 child)

                by Opportunist (5545) on Wednesday November 08, @09:28PM (#1332175)

                There are different search engines for different things to look for. Even yandex has its value for stuff that Russia doesn't give a fuck about that would get removed for various economic interests out here in the free world...

                • (Score: 2) by Reziac on Wednesday November 08, @10:30PM

                  by Reziac (2489) on Wednesday November 08, @10:30PM (#1332184) Homepage

                  Yeah, I know a couple folks who use Yandex by preference. Didn't do anything special for me, tho.

                  --
                  And there is no Alkibiades to come back and save us from ourselves.
    • (Score: 2) by VLM on Monday November 06, @01:04PM

      by VLM (445) on Monday November 06, @01:04PM (#1331637)

      The feedback loop you're describing worked out fine for Academia, especially in the soft sciences.

      The question shouldn't be "will it produce the Truth" but "will it make a profit" and what you're describing has worked out pretty well for Academia, so why not try that business model with AI and journalism?

      I would agree there's a major cultural bifurcation going on between the people living in the real world vs the people whom are terminally online.

      There's also a strange eugenic effect where training people to believe that all news on MSN, maybe all news on the internet, is basically fake, means propaganda overall is less influential, so overall this is probably a good thing in the long term.

  • (Score: 2) by Rosco P. Coltrane on Sunday November 05, @04:58PM

    by Rosco P. Coltrane (4757) on Sunday November 05, @04:58PM (#1331556)
  • (Score: 3, Insightful) by SomeGuy on Sunday November 05, @05:33PM (1 child)

    by SomeGuy (5632) on Sunday November 05, @05:33PM (#1331560)

    Microsoft spokesperson said that the company has deactivated its poll feature and is "investigating the cause of the inappropriate content."

    Here is the cause: You are a bunch of idiots who can't realize that this "AI" tool will never work the way you think it will work.

    I'm still waiting for AI to replace upper management and CEOs. Those jobs obviously don't need a lot of brain power. Just feed in bullshit management brochures, make random mindless decision with no regards for reality, and who would know the difference?

    • (Score: 2) by Reziac on Monday November 06, @02:45PM

      by Reziac (2489) on Monday November 06, @02:45PM (#1331654) Homepage

      Maybe CEOs and management have already been replaced by AIs. How would you know? Has anyone checked??

      --
      And there is no Alkibiades to come back and save us from ourselves.
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