Big Tech cheers as A.I. gets better at gaslighting America

Photograph by Diane Picchiottino

By Scott Thomas Anderson

A couple of months ago, newsrooms began discovering that the algorithm for Google News is now boosting articles that are plagiarized by Artificial Intelligence bots – and Google is boosting them in its search results above the work of flesh-and-blood journalists who broke the stories in the first place, not to mention the reporting outlets who paid for all that labor.

If that wasn’t galling enough, these A.I. content thieves are also generating illusionary photographs of writers who don’t actually exist to slap on top of their pirated stories, which is all part of an automated process meant to further a hoax on readers that these pieces were done by human beings. 

The relatively new reporting project 404 Media was the first to break the story.

It didn’t take long for The New York Post to affirm those findings, realizing in the process that bots had swiped some of its own exclusives and scoops – and that Google News was boosting the A.I. copycats above The Post in search results.

Despite the almost unfathomable humiliation that Google executives just went through with their botched attempt to launch an A.I. model called Gemini – an ahistorical and socially stupefying “intelligence” that was savagely mocked around the world – the company’s leadership has not seen fit to do damage control or take responsibility for the ever-dirtier relationship between A.I. and Google News.

And so, the plagiar-bots are still engaging in their deceptions and still getting rewarded by the largest search engine on the planet. Last week, New York Times opinion writer Ezra Klein broached the topic on his podcast with tech writer Nilay Patel from The Verge.  

“When 404 Media asked Google about this, Google News said that, for them, it was not really a relevant question whether an article was by an A.I. or a human,” Kline noted to Patel. “That struck me as a very strange thing to say – to admit. Is it your view that it is because their business is, in the future, replacing human-generated content with A.I., and saying that’s good? Like, that’s the thing happening at the center there?”

“Yes, fundamentally,” Patel replied. “If you are at Google, and the future of your stock price depends on Gemini being a good competitor to GPT4 or 5, or whatever OpenIA has, you cannot run around saying, ‘This is bad.’”

For the moment, Google is banking on the reality that a tech-perplexed, largely octogenarian Congress is probably incapable of holding them to account for this corrosive type of misinformation they’re propagating. After all, helping trick the public into believing they’re reading something researched, vetted and thought-through by a member of their own species is possibly the ultimate form of misinformation.

One company that does understand this is Medium, one of the biggest and best blogging platforms around. Medium is used by professional writers trying to reach new audiences, aspiring writers trying to break out and hone their craft, and amateur writers just looking to connect their ideas with whomever might be interested. Regardless of what type of writer someone is on the platform, they are allowed to join the Medium Partnership Program, which allows for the possibility that if a piece they’ve done goes viral, they get paid according to the scale of its readership. In other words, if you write something that attracts tens of thousands of readers on Medium, then Medium rewards you, or compensates you, for the accomplishment. On Wednesday, Medium informed all of its users that it was now aware some “writers” were using A.I. to create their content – their supposed “stories” for them.

“Medium is for human storytelling, not AI-generated writing,” the company announced. “We recently defined and clarified our specific policies around the different uses of AI-generated content and technologies, and what is allowed in the Medium Partner Program … Beginning May 1, 2024, stories with AI-generated writing (disclosed as such or not) are not allowed to be paywalled as part of our Partner Program. Accounts that have fully AI-generated writing behind the paywall may have those stories removed from the paywall, and/or have their Partner Program enrollment revoked.”

The public needs to start holding Big Tech companies accountable when they’re anti-social or anti-human. And you can. When Google had its Gemini catastrophe a few months ago, the droves of people relentlessly dunking on them through social media reportedly helped cost the company $90 billion in market value. Your voice and actions matter. At this point, using any search engine other than Google is a good start (Bing! had its own A.I. unpleasantness last year, while Duck Duck Go enjoys one of the better reputations; but literally any search engine other than Google is a political statement at this point). Conversely, rewarding tech-related companies that are trying to do the right thing is also important. For example, you can read some top-tier journalists on Medium: Former government editor for the Washington Post Vanessa Gallman, former New York Times science and public health writer Donald G. McNeil, Pulitzer Gold Medalist Geneva Overholser and Wired and Smithsonian columnist Clive Thompson are all writing on Medium lately. New Yorker cartoonist Liza Donnelly has been a particular hit on the platform.

We’re coming to a major crossroads of reality and unreality. Every news consumer, every internet user, has to decide which side they’re on.

*This is an opinion piece by the Editor of Sacramento News & Review

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