Being a journalist isn’t an easy job. Although you might romanticize the idea of being a journalist as a cozy lifestyle that involves sitting at home in front of a laptop all day writing whatever you want to write about, it’s far more technical than that, and it’s often a thankless task. Journalists aren’t just writers; they’re also historians and researchers. Their credibility – and to some extent, their career – relies upon their ability to verify the source of the information they relay, and to demonstrate that their reporting is based on fact. Even when they do that, in recent years, we’ve all become accustomed to hearing the term ‘fake news’ applied to journalists and reporters regardless of whether they’re reporting the truth or not.
If things are hard for journalists right now, they might be about to become even harder. There are a lot of qualified journalists and writers in the world, and comparatively, few paid jobs in the field. When a paid vacancy opens up for a writer, dozens of people will attempt to fill it. The number of vacancies might become even lower within the next few years, and that’s because Microsoft has decided that in many cases, it no longer needs journalists at all. It’s going to rely on artificial intelligence programs to write content for its websites instead.
By the end of June, Microsoft will have terminated the contracts of fifty writers, most of whom work on its MSN website reporting news and public interest stories. In their place, the company will install an AI program capable of selecting and uploading news from other sources. Some of the replaced journalists have already expressed concerns that an AI program won’t have the nuance to understand and abide by the company’s existing editorial guidelines, and that the process will create more problems than it solves, but Microsoft is determined to try it out anyway. A small number of full-time journalists will be retained to work alongside the AI, but the bulk of people on temporary contracts are to be let go.
It’s notable that Microsoft has elected to trial this AI-driven process before any of its competitors in the crowded field of technology. Google has been working on creating artificial intelligence programs for writing and journalistic purposes for several years but isn’t thought to be close to the point of being ready to put such a program into action. Several news agencies are also believed to be interested in using AI to some degree to write ‘unimportant’ or non-specialized news stories, but Microsoft is the first high-profile company to declare that the services of human beings will no longer be required. It likely won’t be until two or three months beyond the end of June that we get the opportunity to judge whether or not it’s a wise step to be taking at this point in the evolution of AI.
Writing and prioritizing news articles is another step forward for the functionality of AI, which has been made rapid progress as a concept during the past few years. Gamblers in the United Kingdom were amazed last year when artificial intelligence started to monitor their welfare when they played games at online slots websites. The sophisticated software, which is now widely used by the country’s gambling providers, watches Online Slots UK and attempts to pick up compulsive or dangerous gambling patterns. If it believes that a player is in danger of developing a destructive or dangerous gambling pattern, it can freeze the online slots game completely and force the player to take a few moments to ‘cool off’ and think again about whether or not they place another bet. It’s clear from this that artificial intelligence has evolved to the point where it isn’t just performing basic or menial tasks – it’s exercising judgment, and reacting to information in real-time. It’s not quite the ‘rise of the machines’ that we’ve all been taught to fear by science fiction movies, but it’s a step along the road towards it.
The news probably won’t come as a surprise to most Microsoft journalists, who ironically will have written pieces about this very concept in years past. They might not have suspected that they were the next profession in line to lose their jobs to machinery, but they knew that the day was coming. The question of which jobs will cease to exist in the future thanks to advances in artificial intelligence and automation has been a fun one to speculate about for journalists for several years, but the majority of opinion columns didn’t have journalism down as a high-risk profession. Instead, it’s thought that telemarketers will soon be a thing of the past. Computers are already capable of making phone calls, and voice recognition software is capable of recognizing and responding to human speech. The more sophisticated that software becomes, the less need there is to pay a human being to sit at a desk with a telephone making calls.
Roles that have traditionally been carried out by humans inside banks and financial institutions are also thought to be at risk. Credit ratings and credit scores have been the primary factor in determining whether or not an applicant should be allowed access to a loan or a credit card for several years now, and so the need for loan officers is already virtually non-existent. As more people turn to mobile and internet-based banking, the idea of needing to employ a cashier or even operate a high street branch is already becoming a thing of the past for many of the biggest names in world finance.
If reading this article has made you worry about your own professional future, we should point out that it’s not all bad news. Some jobs are unlikely to ever become automated. Anyone who works in one-on-one tuition, training, or counseling roles is unlikely to find that a computer can do their job for them. We’re a long way from being able to automate the functions of a doctor or a surgeon either, and priests and vicars needn’t worry about a robot taking control of their sermons. Artificial intelligence will eventually become embedded in every workplace in the world, but in most cases, they’ll be there to support humans – not to replace them. We can’t see into the future, but we suspect that most of the Microsoft journalists who are losing their job will find paid writing work elsewhere, and that journalism will continue to exist as a human profession for several years yet.