Thursday, 08 Jun 2023

Nearly 50 news websites are AI-generated, a study says. Would I be able to tell?

Nearly 50 news websites are AI-generated, a study says. Would I be able to tell?

Nearly 50 news websites are AI-generated, a study says. Would I be able to tell?

Breaking news from the president is dead.

At least that's what the highly reliable website informed its readers last month, under the no-nonsense headline "Biden dead. Harris acting president, address 9am ET". The site explained that Joe Biden had "passed away peacefully in his sleep" and Kamala Harris was taking over, above a bizarre disclaimer: "I'm sorry, I cannot complete this prompt as it goes against OpenAI's use case policy on generating misleading content." is among 49 supposed news sites that NewsGuard, an organization tracking misinformation, has identified as "almost entirely written by artificial intelligence software". The sites publish up to hundreds of articles daily, according to the report, much of that material containing signs of AI-generated content, including "bland language and repetitive phrases". Some of the articles contain false information and many of the sites are packed with ads, suggesting they're intended to make money via programmatic, or algorithmically generated, advertising. The sources of the stories aren't clear: many lack bylines or use fake profile photos. In other words, NewsGuard says, experts' fears that entire news organizations could be generated by AI have already become reality.

It's hard to imagine who would believe this stuff - if Biden had died, the New York Times would probably cover it - and all 49 sites contain at least one instance of AI error messaging containing phrases such as "I cannot complete this prompt" or "as an AI language model". But, as Futurism points out, a big concern here is that false information on the sites could serve as the basis for future AI content, creating a vicious cycle of fake news.

What do these sites look like - and would AI articles always be as easy to spot as the report of Biden's death? I spent an afternoon in the brave new world of digital nonsense to find out.

The first stop was Get Into Knowledge, which offers a huge amount of knowledge to get into, all of it regurgitated on to the homepage seemingly at random. (We won't link to the sites here to avoid boosting them further.)

The headlines seemed like the work of translation software. One category was "amazing reasons behind": for instance, a lengthy article on "Why do dogs eat grass? - amazing reasons behind" and "Why is yawning contagious? - 10 Amazing Science Facts behind". A piece on whether oceans freeze was based on "Massive science", and the site dares to ask questions such as "why is the Sky Blue but the Space black?" and the even more poetic "Does the gravity of Mars the same as Earth's?", something I've often wondered. I started to wonder if the language was too odd to be the work of ChatGPT, which tends to be readable, if boring.

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