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Microsoft to Replace Journalists with Automated News System

David Paul

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The MSN news home page, which contains daily updated created by staff journalists, will now display the most important stories generated by algorithms.

Microsoft will replace in-house journalists on it’s MSN news site with artificial intelligence (AI) as part of what the company describes as an “evaluation of its business”.

The company will not renew contracts of around 50 of its staff journalists beyond the 30th June, according to reports initially published by Business Insider.

Microsoft said in a statement: “Like all companies, we evaluate our business on a regular basis. This can result in increased investment in some places and, from time to time, redeployment in others. These decisions are not the result of the current pandemic.”

The employees were told Microsoft’s decision to end their contracts was taken at short notice as part of a global shift away from humans in favour of automated updates for news.

According to initial reports, around 50 staff in the United States will be affected by the transition. International staff will also be affected by the move, with the Guardian reporting that around 27 will be let go in the UK.

Humans on the site usually carry out tasks such as using algorithms to identify trending news stories from dozens of publishing partners and helping to optimise the content by rewriting headlines or adding better accompanying photographs or slide shows.

One of the Microsoft staff members told the Seattle Times they concerned that AI could never truly replace humans and may not be fully familiar with strict editorial guidelines they must follow, potentially letting through inappropriate stories.

AI is being used increasingly across several industries to speed up processes and deliver cost savings for organisations.

In February, the University of Dundee and Lancaster University looked at using AI to automate the process of linking suspects to child abuse footage using images of hands.

The current process of sifting through child abuse images and using features such as matching blood vessels and movement to compare and match hands with suspected child abuse offenders is time-consuming and requires a lot of manpower.

AI could be used to help identify tens of thousands of paedophiles daily and with a higher success rate.

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AI also has strong applications for businesses after the Covid-19 pandemic ends, where they will be trying to reduce costs and increase profit.

A Heriot-Watt University spin-out is developing its Alana AI software to understand and respond to human conversation. The company has seen high demand for its technology in the wake of coronavirus.

Professor Oliver Lemon, Director of the Interaction Lab at Heriot-Watt University and Chief AI Officer and co-founder of Alana said: “Conversation is the operating system of everyday life. Even 10 years ago, the idea that we could converse with machines was science fiction.

“Now, we can build AI that is both engaging and useful, supporting humans in their daily lives at work, during leisure time and in the home. We are already working with clients in education, healthcare, and finance – but Alana’s applications are almost limitless.”

David Paul

Staff Writer, DIGIT

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