CNET Money automated financial explainers

Released: October 2022
Occurred: January 2023

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In October 2022, US-based technology news website CNET was discovered by Futurism's The Byte to be using 'automation technology' to publish a series of financial explainer articles, prompting critics to voice concerns about the future of journalism and journalistic jobs.

75 articles had been published since the 'CNET Money' programme started early November 2022, with topics ranging from 'What is Compound Interest?' to 'How to cancel you home equity loan'. Each article was by-lined 'CNET Money Staff'.

'This is just the beginning,' tweeted Washington Post reporter Nathan Grayson in response to the story, 'and aggregation plus explanation performed by AI will doubtless result in lower-quality work and fewer jobs.' Casey Newton called it 'a grim development for journalism, as more of the work once reserved for entry-level writers building their resumes is swiftly automated away.'

CNET initially failed to respond to questions about its programme, which it appears to be trying to keep as low profile as possible. CNET editor-in-chief Connie Guglielmo later confimed the use of AI and said the byline had been changed to 'CNET Money' and the disclosure about the use of AI made more prominent on relevant articles.

A few days later, Futurism pointed out that an AI explainer on compound interest made a series of 'bone-headed' errors, underlining the difficulty text generators have in distinguishing fact from fiction. Guglielmo had previously committed that every CNET article 'is reviewed, fact-checked and edited by an editor with topical expertise before we hit publish'.

Every AI-generated article was then updated with a note that reads: 'Editors' note: We are currently reviewing this story for accuracy. If we find errors, we will update and issue corrections,' Vice observed.

On January 20, The Verge reported that CNET owner Red Ventures was pausing all AI-generated content across its properties, including CNET. Red Ventures also confirmed the AI is a proprietary tool that enables editors to generate fully AI-written stories, or a combination of AI-generated text and their own writing or reporting.

Futurism then discovered that CNET's AI had been directly plagiarising the work of Red Ventures competitors, in addition to human writers at Red Ventures-owned websites, including CNET.

Connie Guglielmo subsequently published a new statement admitting the firm's AI had not been properly used, and what it intends to do about it:

'In a handful of stories, our plagiarism checker tool either wasn't properly used by the editor or it failed to catch sentences or partial sentences that closely resembled the original language. We're developing additional ways to flag exact or similar matches to other published content identified by the AI tool, including automatic citations and external links for proprietary information such as data points or direct quotes. We're also adding additional steps to flag potential misinformation.'

According to The Verge, many CNET employees were kept in the dark about what tools the company was using or how it was using them and that, 'at times, they didn’t know if content published to CNET was AI-generated or written by their human colleagues.'

Operator: Red Ventures/CNET
Red Ventures/CNET
USA; Global
Automate copywriting
Large language model (LLM); NLP/text analysis; Neural network; Deep learning
Accuracy/reliability; Employment - jobs; Ethics
Governance; Marketing

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Published: January 2023
Last updated: January 2023