CNET pauses its controversial AI-generated stories ‘for now’

CNET pauses its controversial AI-generated stories ‘for now’

CNET has hit the pause button on its controversial article writing bot.

In a staff call Friday, CNET leadership announced it would stop using artificial intelligence to write articles “for now,” according to The Verge(Opens in a new window). Last week, online marketing expert Gael Breton did tweeted(Opens in a new window) that a CNET article about financial planning came with a disclaimer that it was “generated using automated technology.” Futurism picked up the story, reporting that CNET was “quietly publishing”(Opens in a new window) more than 70 SEO-friendly explainer articles about finance since November 2022. What followed was a backlash about the use of artificial intelligence to generate stories – without some kind of overt advertisement, to achieve a high SEO ranking, as well as scrutinizing the accuracy of articles.

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The AI-generated articles are listed as written by “CNET Money Staff” with a disclaimer first stating “This article was generated using automated technology and edited by an editor on our editorial team to thorough and checked.” It was quickly shown that the denial was not enough and that the denial was too far fetched, not to mention unethical to use AI in the first place. Now, the author is listed as “CNET Money” and the disclaimer has been changed to “This article was contributed by an AI engine and reviewed, fact-checked and edited by our editorial team.”

The original publication of the stories contained errors such as confusing the terms APR and APY, and incorrectly calculating that a savings account with $10,000 and a three percent interest rate would accrue $10,300 when it would actually accrue $300.

The AI ‚Äč‚Äčtechnology was created by CNET-owned private equity firm Red Ventures, along with Bankrate, The Points Guy, and CreditCards.com. Publishing content about finance and banking is profitable for media sites as it attracts a lot of inquiries through search engines, which are then converted into profit through affiliate links. Optimizing searchable content is common practice in digital media, but using it to identify and pitch stories for the express purpose of monetization blurs the lines of ethical editorial practice. When a media site prioritizes money-making content over relevant and timely news, it calls into question the site’s integrity and credibility.

In response, CNET published a post(Opens in a new window) explaining how it was planned to use AI “to see if the technology can help our busy team of reporters and editors with their work to cover topics from a 360-degree perspective.” The rationale is that technology could free up time and energy to focus on more in-depth reporting and analysis.

The Associated Press(Opens in a new window) also using AI to gather and analyze news, transcribe videos and write copy. That being said, while CNET has put its controversial tool on hold for now, it’s not the only one experimenting with this technology, and it certainly won’t be the last we hear about it.

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