Unconscious Writers, Unconscious Readers: Democracy Endangered

Lien Verstraeten, Jara Dichas, Melisa Zelaya & Robert Saura

On 12 January 2017, the European Parliament assessed a draft resolution relating to the regulation of automation and robots. However, until today, the EU has not implemented such legislation.

In a continuously changing digital era, the EU has mainly been focussing on protecting EU citizens; in 2016, the Union succeeded in approving the GDPR. The directive was designed to harmonise data privacy laws across the EU and to protect EU citizens’ data privacy.

“Greater efficiency can free up reporters from mundane tasks, but it can also warp what journalism is and what we want it to be”                    Carlson, 2018

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In 2018, the question on many workers’ lips is ‘Will I lose my job to a robot?’. One of the less expected areas in which the robotic revolution may occur in is journalism, where the on-going AI developments are both a threat and an opportunity. The main difference with other fields incorporating AI is that the effects of automated journalism will not be most felt in the substitution of humans by machines, rather in the understandings of what journalism is and its role in democracy. What if journalists’ role as watchdog over democracy cannot be guaranteed? Will AI have an impact on EU’s credibility?

“Journalism is not so stationary or repetitive. Instead, automated journalism alters our understandings of what journalism is”                         Carlson, 2018

News content has always been limited by resources, journalists operate according to a selection process known as ‘gatekeeping’, which in turn relies on the concepts of ‘news nets’ and ‘newsworthiness’ to report on events happening in the world. Journalists’ modus operandi in this aspect is often criticised for being too inclusive. Automated journalism on the other hand relies only on clean and reliable data available.

Automated journalism throws off the balance between the availability of workers, workload and the gatekeeping process. Despite the fact that AI can help offset the reduction of journalists and expose patterns in data humans cannot discern, it will create a greater and more personalised amount of news stories. It will most likely cause significant long term repercussions on journalism’s standards and credibility, and EU’s credibility and level of democracy at large.

Therefore, two main points of criticism should be drawn to fully enhance policies and deontological codes surrounding AI.

  1. Will journalism lose its purpose in society if the citizens are provided with different news?
  2. Can all stories be easily automated? Where is the line drawn regarding what type of stories are automated and not automated?

Over the past decades increase of profits has become more important, a trend that will develop a concept of news being presented with the focus of meeting everyone’s specific needs and wants in a way a reporter could never do. Therefore, AI will write and present a version of the news and we will be presented a version we wish to read; not the one we should read, creating the perfect echo chamber. This hyper personalised, AI-driven reality is closer than people realise, and there aren’t still any regulations controlling it.

Who will guard the guardians?

Specifically, when it comes to communication technology, policy development tends to be highly reactive, rather than proactive. The robotic news of the future will likely be considered more trustworthy, unless policies are implemented which seek to limit the extent of which algorithms can access audience profile data — thereby reducing the ability for the media to place readers in the ever growing personal bubble. All the changes brought by the increasing importance of AI in the communication field means the urgent need for the news media to act responsibly and self-police their content. They need to be more transparent in their use of AI, so their credibility won’t be jeopardized.

But the most important aspect of AI relies on the audience, a need expressed by Andrus Ansip European Commission Vice-President for the #DigitalSingleMarket, as we cannot afford to lose our critical thought and introspection at the cost of AI giving us news at our simple bequest.

If societies follow the natural progression of these developments and no rules, neither on national nor on EU level, are set to govern AI-driven journalism, democracy as we know it will forever be altered.

 

References: 

Carlson, M. (2018). The Robotic Reporter: Automated Journalism and the Redefinition of Labor, Compositional Forms, and Journalistic Authority, Digital Journalism, 3(3), pp. 416-431.

Ha, A. (January 12, 2018) As David Letterman’s first Netflix guest, Barack Obama warns against the ‘bubble’ of social media. TechCrunch Blog. Retrieved 7 May 2018, from: https://techcrunch.com/2018/01/12/as david-lettermans-first-netflix-guest-barack obama-warns-against-the-bubble-of-social-media/.

Mützel, D. (January 10, 2017). EU plans first laws on robotics”. Euractiv Platform. Retrieved 7 May 2018, from: https://www.euractiv.com/section/digital/news/eu-plans-first-laws-on-robotics/.

Vishwanath, (February 27, 2018). When a robot writes your news, what happens to democracy?. CNN online newspaper. Retrieved 6 May 2018, from: (https://edition.cnn.com/2018/02/27/opinions/ai-free-press-democracy-opinion-vishwanath/index.html.

 

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