Credit: The Verge

The business, which operates websites like The AV Club, Gizmodo, and The Onion, revealed last week that it will start experimenting with artificial intelligence (AI) features.

The leadership of G/O Media said last week that AI-generated content were soon to be available to personnel at the several newspapers the firm controls.

“We are both a leading technology company and an editorial organization that covers technology in world class fashion across multiple sites,” editorial director Merrill Brown wrote in an email. “So it is utterly appropriate — and in fact our responsibility — to do all we can to develop AI initiatives relatively early in the evolution of the technology.”

On Wednesday, a few of stories that appeared on Gizmodo and The AV Club and were attributed to the websites’ respective bots marked the beginning of G/O’s early tests with AI technologies. And then there were humiliating errors very quickly.

Fans were eager to point out factual flaws in the Gizmodo bot’s debut article, “A Chronological List of Star Wars Movies & TV Shows,” which concerned the franchise’s in-universe chronology. io9 deputy editor James Whitbrook tweeted that he was not aware the item will be published until just before it did. According to Whitbrook, “no one at io9 played a part in its editing or publication.” The original URL to the article is now returning an error.

Over on The AV Club, a list called “The Biggest Summer Blockbusters of 2003: 10 Can’t-Miss Movies” is credited to the outlet’s bot. The article contains almost no writing or analysis, but its construction suggests that the piece is an attempt to attract cheap search traffic. The piece was also syndicated to Yahoo Entertainment.

It is unclear how the articles were assigned, generated, and if they were edited at any point by a human before going live. G/O Media didn’t immediately respond to The Verge’s questions about its editorial process and oversight of AI-written stories.

The company, which also owns publications like Deadspin, Jezebel, and The Onion, is far from the first media outlet to utilize generative AI software to produce content. From BuzzFeed to CNET, publishers have turned to AI tools to churn out material like explainer articles, quizzes, and lists, selling the pivot by saying machines would not replace human writers but instead would free up staff so they could work on more ambitious projects.

But for all of the benefits of AI tools media companies extoll, there are glaring issues — for one, the material produced is often bad or plainly inaccurate. After a litany of errors in stories produced using AI systems, human CNET staffers did the work of going back and rewriting dozens of articles. At Men’s Journal, AI-powered articles contained errors in stories about health and science that had to be corrected after publication.

At publications experimenting with AI tools, writers, editors, and other journalists have resisted the invading technology, which at times has been implemented with little transparency — and as people are being let go and teams destroyed. The Pulitzer-winning journalistic division of BuzzFeed was shut down soon after it announced its AI programme. Recently, CNET employees decided to unionise, arguing that they should have a role in how the company uses AI capabilities.

The Gizmodo union urged readers not to click any articles credited to the bot, calling the rollout of the articles “unethical and unacceptable.”

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