Google touts AI for news, insists journalists can’t be replaced

Tech giant says AI-powered tool is not intended to replace ‘essential’ role journalists play in covering the news.

Google is developing artificial intelligence-enabled tools to help journalists research and write news articles, a development that is likely to rattle nerves across the media industry after years of painful job cuts.

Google is working with media outlets, particularly with small publishers, to provide AI-powered tools to assist journalists with “options for headlines or different writing styles”, the California-based tech giant said on Thursday.

“Our goal is to give journalists the choice of using these emerging technologies in a way that enhances their work and productivity, just like we’re making assistive tools available for people in Gmail and in Google Docs,” Google spokeswoman Jenn Crider said in a statement to Al Jazeera, adding that the company was still in the “earliest stages of exploring ideas”.

“Quite simply, these tools are not intended to, and cannot, replace the essential role journalists have in reporting, creating, and fact-checking their articles.”

The development is likely to fuel a growing debate about the risks and benefits of AI-powered platforms like ChatGPT, which has stunned users with its ability to mimic human speech but raised concerns about copyright infringement, misinformation and the replacement of human workers.

The global media industry has been decimated by successive rounds of layoffs amid a collapse in print advertising revenues, with US newsrooms alone shedding a record 17,436 jobs in the first five months of 2023.

The New York Times first reported on Google’s development of the tool, known as Genesis, which the newspaper said has been pitched to news organisations including the Times, the Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal-owner News Corp.

Some news executives who saw Google’s pitch described it as “unsettling”, the Times said in its report, which cited people familiar with the product.

While some media organisations have begun to use generative AI, newsrooms have been generally slow to embrace the technology for news-gathering purposes amid concerns about accuracy, plagiarism, and copyright.

Last week, the Associated Press announced a partnership with OpenAI allowing the ChatGPT creator to use the news organisation’s archives going back to 1985 to train AI.