Kenyan media must take the AI bull by the horns

Artificial Intelligence

AI tools are designed as tools, mind you, tools that assist us in various tasks.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

This week, it was reported in the American press that technology giant Google is testing an Artificial Intelligence (AI) tool with the capability to produce news stories.

Reports suggest that Google pitched the idea to executives from News Corp (owner of Wall Street Journal), The Washington Post and The New York Times. According to the New York Times, Google promises this new AI tool to be a ‘kind of personal assistant for journalists’ with the capabilities to automate tasks thus freeing up time for journalists to focus on more important tasks.

The tech giant also views this new tool as a form of ‘responsible technology’ that will allow the media industry to navigate and stem the negative impact of artificial intelligence.

Artificial Intelligence and its impact on journalism has been a hot topic for a while now. The thought of machines performing traditionally human newsroom tasks such as news writing has triggered mixed feelings from journalists, while also presenting new opportunities for the media.

AI is already being used in the media industry for content recommendation, crunching audience-related data, subtitling videos and transcribing of interviews. AI is proving critical for data journalism, helping journalists to crunch huge amounts of data to cull important patterns to tell big stories. Some media organisations such as Associated Press use AI to produce data-driven sports stories. Reuters has been reported to use AI in their coverage of the stock market and company earnings reports.

One of Germany’s biggest tabloids, Bild, owned by Axel Springer, recently announced that it will be replacing a third of its workforce (approximately 600 jobs) with artificial intelligence. In an email to the staff, Bild’s chief editor noted that “the functions of editor-in-chief, layout artists, proofreader, publisher and photo editor will no longer exist in the future as we know them today”.

Fear and anxiety

While journalists understandably express fear and anxiety regarding AI’s impact on their profession, the media executives in charge of strategy and resources appear to be more open to AI and its capabilities for cost-cutting and improving efficiencies.

We should expect to see more discussions between technology companies and the media on incorporating AI in the newsroom and will most likely see more partnerships on this area emerge.

Meanwhile, locally the AI discussion is catching on. The use of AI is still in the nascent stages where some local media are using AI for content recommendation and data journalism but we are yet to see any concrete AI- generated stories in our local media.

As the world advances the conversation on AI, it is important that local media organisations invest time and resources in discovering and learning more about AI and especially its impact on storytelling. What we have seen so far is various seminars and workshops exploring the basics of AI. However, the local media industry will need a much deeper and nuanced understanding of the capabilities – and threats – of AI and more importantly ensure that they are ready for the disruption of AI in the newsrooms.

- Dr Chege is a media and technology researcher.