Sports Illustrated found publishing AI-generated stories, photos and authors

Sports Illustrated found publishing AI-generated stories, photos and authors

Artificial intelligence (AI) letters and a miniature robot in this illustration taken on June 23, 2023. Photograph by Dado Rovik/Reuters

NEW YORK (AP) — Computer-generated writers…writing computer-generated stories?

Sports Illustrated is the latest media company to see its reputation damaged by being less than forthcoming — if not downright dishonest — about who or what is writing its stories at the dawn of the age of artificial intelligence.

The once powerful magazine said it was expelling a company that produced articles for its website written under the names of authors that did not appear to exist. But it denied a published report that the stories themselves were written by an artificial intelligence tool.

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Earlier this year, AI experiments at both the Gannett newspaper chain and technology site CNET failed. Many companies are testing new technology at a time when human workers fear it could cost their jobs. But this process is fraught with danger in journalism, which builds and markets its values-based products around notions of truth and transparency.

Tom Rosenstiel, a University of Maryland professor who studies journalism ethics, said that while there is nothing wrong with media companies experimenting with artificial intelligence, “what is wrong is trying to hide it, and doing it poorly.”

“If you want to be in the business of telling the truth, which is what journalists claim to do, you shouldn’t lie,” Rosenstiel said. “A secret is a form of lying.”

Conflicting accounts of what happened

Sports Illustrated, now operated as a website and monthly publication by Arena Group, was at one time a weekly magazine in the Time Inc. magazine group. Known for her excellent writing. “Its ambitions were grand,” said Jeff Jarvis, author of “Journal,” a book he describes as an elegy for the industry.

Sports Illustrated used stories for product reviews whose authors it could not identify, Futurism reported Monday. Futurism found a photo of one of the authors, Drew Ortiz, on a website that sells AI-generated images.

“Drew has spent most of his life outdoors, and is passionate about walking you through his never-ending list of the best products to keep you from running into nature’s dangers,” the magazine’s author profile reads.

When questioned by Sports Illustrated, Futurism said that all authors with AI-generated images had disappeared from the magazine’s website. No explanation was given.

Futurism quoted an unnamed person in the magazine as saying that AI was being used to create some content as well – “no matter how much they say it’s not the case.”

Sports Illustrated said the articles in question were created by a third-party company, AdVon Commerce, which confirmed to the magazine that they were written and edited by humans. Sports Illustrated said AdVon had its writers use a pseudonym, “Acts We Don’t Condone.”

“We are removing the content while our internal investigation continues and have since terminated the partnership,” the magazine said. A message to AdVon was not immediately returned Tuesday.

in a permitSports Illustrated said he was horrified by the future story.

“We demand answers and transparency from Arena Group management about what exactly was published under the name SI,” the union said. “We demand that the company adhere to basic journalistic standards, including not publishing computer-written stories by fake people.”

It is not the first such case

Gannett temporarily halted an experiment at some of its newspapers this summer, in which artificial intelligence was used to generate articles about high school sporting events, after errors were discovered. The articles were subtitled “LedeAI”.

Jarvis said some of the unpleasant publicity that resulted might have been avoided if newspapers had been upfront about the role of technology, and how it helped create articles that journalists might not have been available to do. Gannett said staffing shortages had nothing to do with the trial.

Last winter, it was reported that CNET used artificial intelligence to create explanatory news articles on financial services topics attributed to the “CNET Money Staff.” The only way readers can know that technology was involved in the writing is to click on the author attribution.

Only after discovering her experience and writing about it in other publications did CNET discuss it with readers. In a memo, then-editor Connie Guglielmo said 77 machine-generated stories had been published, and that many required corrections. The site later clarified when AI is used in story creation.

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“The process may not always be easy or pretty, but we will continue to embrace it, and any new technology we think makes life better,” Guglielmo wrote.

Other companies have been more frank about their experiences. For example, Buzzfeed attributed a travel article about Santa Barbara, California, to writer Emma Hegar and the robot Buzzy, “our creative AI assistant.”

“We’ll be developing content based on AI — cool new things you could never do without AI — and things that were optimized by AI but created by humans,” Buzzfeed said in a note to readers.

The Associated Press has been using technology to assist with articles on financial earnings reports since 2014, and more recently with some sports stories. A company spokeswoman said that at the end of each story there is a note explaining the role of technology in its production.

For example, a short article about an upcoming NBA game earlier this month had this note at the end: “The Associated Press created this story using technology provided by Data Skrive and data from Sportradar.”

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