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Thursday, September 21, 2023
HomeOpinionEditorialAS WE SEE IT: The ethics of AI use

AS WE SEE IT: The ethics of AI use

Someone on my friends list recently suggested I start using AI tools to help with some of the writing for the newspaper. They talked about what a great tool large language models (what we colloquially call AI or artificial intelligence) can be and suggested I begin learning them and using them to do the “heavy lifting” of my writing work.

I responded in a teasing tone, telling him that the writing wasn’t the heavy part. What I really needed, I joked, was a robot who could attend meetings and take accurate notes for me. But deep inside, I was a little offended.

That a friend – and not just any friend but another professional writer – thought artificial intelligence could handle writing and reporting as well and accurately as I do myself hurt me.

After all, there is a lot more to writing a news story than regurgitating what happened in a meeting. You have to understand context, and look back at previous meetings and actions taken in the past. You not only have to know what concerns people voice in a public meeting, but you have to understand why that’s a concern for them. If you don’t understand you need to ask probing questions that can help you, and sometimes the person you are questioning, understand better why they have those concerns or questions.

There is a human element that a computer will never, ever be able to understand or emulate, no matter how many other news stories they analyze, or how consistently they produce content.

None of this even addresses the craft and art of writing; the individual voice of the writer and how it comes through and helps engage with the reader. But, honestly, that’s not the real point of it.

The point is it seems unethical to me, for a whole variety of reasons. Or, if not fully unethical, it raises a host of ethical questions for me that I’m not even sure how to articulate yet, much less answer.

I know I could edit any work written by AI to ensure its accuracy. I could let them do the “heavy lifting” my friend suggested and double check it to make sure it contains the human element I worry it might miss.

That’s work I already do with the content submitted to me by our human writers. But something feels wrong about letting a computer do that with something as important as the news.

And there’s always the chance I’ll miss something that could be devastating. Something a human would know to leave out.

Something like the name of a crime victim. Or something worse.

Indictments, for instance, often include the names of crime victims. In the case of minors, they might use initials.

But for those who know the families, that might be enough. Frankly, I don’t believe that’s any of their business. It’s not news. The crime – whatever it may be – is news. The perpetrator is. The survivor should be allowed to tell their story when, and if, they are ready.

I do the same with victims of theft, or financial fraud, assault, or any other crime. Sometimes these folks can face reprisal from friends and family of the accused. So, unless there is some pertinent reason to do so (for instance they hold a public office or position that makes it relevant), I don’t print their names.

This is part of my ethical stance, and it’s one we maintain in our newspapers. Others may disagree, but it’s the stance I take.

It can happen with people writing too. And I’m sure that you could do the work with the software to make sure it didn’t include that information as well. But these are the questions I need to consider before I even think about using AI.

And, frankly, it seems easier to me to just do the work myself. I type fast. I know what I need to look for. I know what I want to say. I feel like I’d spend as much time teaching the computer what to look for – things I do without even thinking after two decades of writing every day – and then editing that content as I would putting together the story myself.

I’ve seen changes in the business since I started, from physical paste ups and 35 mm developed in dark rooms to a completely digital layout platform that can be delivered over the internet from anywhere in the world.

It’s possible letting AI do my “heavy lifting” may be just another middleman cut out of the process, like the time I used to spend in the darkroom developing negatives to scan into a computer. It could be a tool that doesn’t have to change the outcome of the final product in any way. It’s possible.

But I have a lot to learn before that’s something I’m ready to think about doing. Until then, I just don’t think it’s something I can embrace in good faith.

Plus, I’d really miss the sound and feel of the keyboard clicking under my fingers.

Contact the writer at editor@cartercountytimes.com



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