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One of Rupert Murdoch’s top lieutenants has warned that AI threatens a “tsunami” of job losses and could crush readers under a weight of “maggot-ridden mind mould.”
News Corporation chief executive Robert Thomson told a conference in San Francisco that the rapid rise of artificial intelligence was “epochal”.
News Corp global chief executive Robert Thomson has sent a dire warning about the danger of AI.Credit: AP
Thomson said that AI will lead to a “tsunami” of job losses. “From 2008 to 2020, 57pc of newsroom jobs in the United States have been lost,” he said.
“We’re facing another wave, in this case, a tsunami potentially of job losses because of the impact of AI. And these are not just jobs lost, but it’s insight lost. And so it’s important that all media companies understand the impact, but also, it’s incumbent on the big AI players to understand their impact.”
While warnings about AI job losses are not limited to newsrooms, Thomson warned that there was a greater societal risk: that we will become deluged by a stream of AI-generated “rubbish”.
“People have to understand that AI is essentially retrospective. It’s about permutations of pre-existing content. And the danger is, it’s rubbish in, rubbish out, and in this case, rubbish all about,” Thomson said.
“Instead of elevating and enhancing, what you might find is that you have this ever shrinking cycle of sanity surrounded by a reservoir of rubbish. That instead of the insight that AI can potentially bring, it will evolve into essentially a maggot-ridden mind mould.”
Concerns about technology are not new. Rupert Murdoch has spent much of the last decade and a half at war with Google, claiming the internet giant has been ripping off his content.
The Australian media tycoon has called the search engine a “parasite” and “kleptomaniac”, accusing it of stealing work from a newspaper empire that includes The Times, The Sun, The Wall Street Journal and the New York Post.
Murdoch briefly went so far as to block Google from including The Times within its search results. His company, News Corporation, complained to the European Commission, accusing Google of exploiting “a dominant market position to stifle competition”.
Thomson cautions that AI could lead to a plethora of job losses for media organisations around the world.Credit: Getty
His hard line has seen results: Australia, where Murdoch retains a lasting influence, introduced pioneering laws that effectively make Google and Facebook pay for news in 2021.
After a stand-off, Google backed down, striking deals with dozens of outlets. Now, countries around the world are following, and News Corp and Google have signed a multi-year partnership deal that involves “significant payments” from the tech company.
While AI now poses a fresh threat, there is also an opportunity.
Thomson told shareholders last month that it would allow the company to reduce costs. He has suggested that this will be in back office functions, although the company’s local Australian titles are already using AI to author stories about weather and fuel prices.
Murdoch’s loudest critics would find it ironic that Thomson is complaining about AI poisoning people’s minds. But most would concede that he has a point.
While chatbots such as ChatGPT can appear omniscient, at a fundamental level they are simply consuming and repackaging huge quantities of existing knowledge that they have already ingested. Creating that knowledge is another matter altogether.
Major news sites such as the New York Times, Reuters and CNN have already begun blocking ChatGPT software that scours the web for material to ingest.
That may only be an initial step. The New York Times is reportedly considering legal action against OpenAI, the company behind ChatGPT as negotiations between the companies over a licensing deal fail to bear fruit.
In July, The Telegraph revealed that DMGT, the owner of the Daily Mail, was considering potential action against Google for using its online articles to train its ChatGPT competitor, Bard.
News Corp, despite Murdoch’s previous fiery past rhetoric against Google, has been less confrontational.
“What you will see over time, [is] a lot of litigation,” Thomson said. “Some media companies have already begun those discussions. Personally, we’re not interested in that at this stage. We’re much more interested in negotiation, and we have various negotiations going on.”
News organisations including the Associated Press have already agreed deals with OpenAI.
However, Thomson is likely to strike a hard bargain. His critique is not only that AI companies are scraping huge quantities of copyrighted data, but that it is producing biased content that is corrosive to society.
Thomson has complained about what he sees as AI programmes “churning out… left wing” articles.
In a separate talk, he added: “It really is incumbent on these companies to recognise that responsibility in the end to their own products and certainly, to society.”
These comments may be directed at regulators.
Britain’s Intellectual Property Office, among others, is currently assessing how copyright laws apply to AI.
Murdoch’s fight with search engines may have reached a truce. But a new one is just beginning.
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