David Cohn

563. What artificial intelligence programs like ChatGPT mean for the future of journalism

ChatGPT might be among the first wave of artificial intelligence tools newsrooms — and readers — are encountering, but don’t expect to see this tool take over reporting and writing from humans. At least not yet. 

David Cohn, friend of the podcast who recently introduced the idea of Subtext, the SMS platform that connects newsrooms and reporters with subscribers via texts, says ChatGPT and similar AI programs are “large language models” that don’t actually make predictions in the way most people think of the word “prediction.” 

“ChatGPT doesn’t know the answer to the question you asked it,” he says. “Instead, it’s using statistics to predict a word that would appear in a well-written answer. When it comes to a question of what it’s good at, I think there’s a ton of potential on the creative side. ChatGPT can be leveraged to do highly creative outlets.”

However, there are limitations. “It really isn’t good for understanding broad general facts. They can do things like summarize a piece of content that’s very defined, and it can do that pretty well and keep facts in place, but when you ask a general question where the input comes from a large amount of language data, it can start to get fuzzy,” Cohn says. “The other big limitation is the person who’s writing the prompts. I think there will be people more adept at using ChatGPT than others and they will get better results.” 

Newsrooms also will need to determine the best and most ethical ways to use AI, the same way newsrooms have had to re-examine ethical practices and policies with other new technologies, from the internet to social media. 

Cohn thinks newsrooms might follow the lead from Wired, which recently published a piece explaining how it will and will not use the technology. 

“They’re not going to use it for AI-written articles or AI-edited articles, but if they do, they’ll call it out. In the end, right now, what AI is good at is sparking ideas and creativity,” Cohn says. “I don’t think AI is really good at actually doing the reporting or the factchecking or the fact generation. I think that still has to have the reporters in the driver’s seat.” 

David Cohn, senior director of the AlphaGroup tech/media incubator and the co-founder and chief strategy officer of Subtext, says artificial intelligence programs like ChatGPT won’t be taking journalists jobs, at least not anytime soon. But there are still vital roles for journalists to play as AI programs become more commonplace in the newsroom.

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