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CNET Pauses Its Controversial AI-Generated Stories ‘For Now’

CNET has hit the pause button on its controversial article writing bot.

In a staff call on Friday, CNET leadership announced that it would “temporarily” stop using artificial intelligence to write articles The edge(Opens in a new window). Last week, online marketing expert Gael Breton tweeted(Opens in a new window) that a CNET article on financial planning contained a disclaimer that it was “generated using automation technology”. Futurism picked up on the story and reported that CNET had been “publish quietly”(Opens in a new window) over 70 SEO-friendly explainer articles on finance since November 2022. What followed was criticism of the use of artificial intelligence to generate stories – without any kind of explicit announcement, for achieving a high SEO ranking, as well as scrutinizing the accuracy of the articles.

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The AI-generated articles are listed as being written by “CNET Money Staff” with a disclaimer that originally said, “This article was generated using automation technology and has been thoroughly edited and fact-checked by an editor from our editorial staff.” Criticism that the disclaimer was insufficient and too subtle, let alone unethical to use AI at all, quickly followed. Now the author is listed as “CNET Money” and the disclaimer has been changed to “This article has been powered by an AI engine and has been reviewed, fact-checked, and edited by our editorial staff.”

Original publications of the stories contained errors, such as confusing the terms APR and APY, and incorrectly calculating that a savings account with $10,000 and a three percent interest rate would yield $10,300 when in reality it would yield $300.

The AI ​​technology was created by private equity firm Red Ventures, which owns CNET alongside Bankrate, The Points Guy, and CreditCards.com. Publishing content about finance and banking is lucrative for media sites as it generates a lot of queries through search engines, which are then converted into profit through affiliate links. Optimizing content for search is standard practice in digital media, but using a bot to identify and produce stories for the explicit purpose of monetization blurs the boundaries of ethical editorial practice. When a media site prioritizes money-making content over relevant and current news, the site’s integrity and credibility are called into question.

In answer, CNET published a post(Opens in a new window) explaining how the use of AI was intended “to see if the technology can help our busy staff of reporters and editors in their work of covering topics from a 360-degree perspective.” The justification is that the technology could free up time and energy to focus on deeper reporting and analysis.

The Associated Press(Opens in a new window) has also used AI to collect and analyze news, transcribe videos and write texts. That is to say, while CNET has paused its controversial tool for now, it’s not the only one experimenting with this technology, and it certainly won’t be the last we hear of it.

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