The Poisoning of the American Mind

Book by Lawrence M. Eppard: “Humans are hard-wired to look for information that they agree with (regardless of the information’s veracity), avoid information that makes them uncomfortable (even if that information is true), and interpret information in a manner that is most favorable to their sense of self. The damage these cognitive tendencies cause to one’s perception of reality depends in part upon the information that a person surrounds himself/herself with. Unfortunately, in the U.S. today, both liberals and conservatives are regularly bombarded with misleading information as well as lies from people they believe to be trustworthy and authoritative sources. While there are several factors one could plausibly blame for this predicament, the decline in the quality of the sources of information that the right and left rely on over the last few decades plays a primary role. As a result of this decline, we are faced with an epistemic crisis that is poisoning the American mind and threatening our democracy. In his forthcoming book with Jacob L. Mackey, The Poisoning of the American Mind, Lawrence M. Eppard explores epistemic problems in both the right-wing and left-wing ideological silos in the U.S., including ideology presented as fact, misinformation, disinformation, and malinformation…(More)”.

First EU rulebook to protect media independence and pluralism enters into force

Press Release: “Today, the European Media Freedom Act, a new set of unprecedented rules to protect media independence and pluralism, enters into force.

This new legislation provides safeguards against political interference in editorial decisions and against surveillance of journalists. The Act guarantees that media can operate more easily in the internal market and online. Additionally, the regulation also aims to secure the independence and stable funding of public service media, as well as the transparency of both media ownership and allocation of state advertising.

Vice-President for Values and Transparency, Věra Jourová, said:

 “For the first time ever, the EU has a law to protect media freedom. The EU recognises that journalists play an essential role for democracy and should be protected. I call on Member States to implement the new rules as soon as possible.”

Commissioner for Internal Market, Thierry Breton, added:

“Media companies play a vital role in our democracies but are confronted with falling revenues, threats to media freedom and pluralism and a patchwork of different national rules. Thanks to the European Media Freedom Act, media companies will enjoy common safeguards at EU level to guarantee a plurality of voices and be able to better benefit from the opportunities of operating in our single market without any interference, be it private or public.”

Proposed by the Commission in September 2022, this Regulation puts in place several protections for the right to media plurality becoming applicable within 6 months. More details on the timeline for its application are available in this infographic. ..(More)”.

Debugging Tech Journalism

Essay by Timothy B. Lee: “A huge proportion of tech journalism is characterized by scandals, sensationalism, and shoddy research. Can we fix it?

In November, a few days after Sam Altman was fired — and then rehired — as CEO of OpenAI, Reuters reported on a letter that may have played a role in Altman’s ouster. Several staffers reportedly wrote to the board of directors warning about “a powerful artificial intelligence discovery that they said could threaten humanity.”

The discovery: an AI system called Q* that can solve grade-school math problems.

“Researchers consider math to be a frontier of generative AI development,” the Reuters journalists wrote. Large language models are “good at writing and language translation,” but “conquering the ability to do math — where there is only one right answer — implies AI would have greater reasoning capabilities resembling human intelligence.”

This was a bit of a head-scratcher. Computers have been able to perform arithmetic at superhuman levels for decades. The Q* project was reportedly focused on word problems, which have historically been harder than arithmetic for computers to solve. Still, it’s not obvious that solving them would unlock human-level intelligence.

The Reuters article left readers with a vague impression that Q could be a huge breakthrough in AI — one that might even “threaten humanity.” But it didn’t provide readers with the context to understand what Q actually was — or to evaluate whether feverish speculation about it was justified.

For example, the Reuters article didn’t mention research OpenAI published last May describing a technique for solving math problems by breaking them down into small steps. In a December article, I dug into this and other recent research to help to illuminate what OpenAI is likely working on: a framework that would enable AI systems to search through a large space of possible solutions to a problem…(More)”.

AI chatbots refuse to produce ‘controversial’ output − why that’s a free speech problem

Article by Jordi Calvet-Bademunt and Jacob Mchangama: “Google recently made headlines globally because its chatbot Gemini generated images of people of color instead of white people in historical settings that featured white people. Adobe Firefly’s image creation tool saw similar issues. This led some commentators to complain that AI had gone “woke.” Others suggested these issues resulted from faulty efforts to fight AI bias and better serve a global audience.

The discussions over AI’s political leanings and efforts to fight bias are important. Still, the conversation on AI ignores another crucial issue: What is the AI industry’s approach to free speech, and does it embrace international free speech standards?…In a recent report, we found that generative AI has important shortcomings regarding freedom of expression and access to information.

Generative AI is a type of AI that creates content, like text or images, based on the data it has been trained with. In particular, we found that the use policies of major chatbots do not meet United Nations standards. In practice, this means that AI chatbots often censor output when dealing with issues the companies deem controversial. Without a solid culture of free speech, the companies producing generative AI tools are likely to continue to face backlash in these increasingly polarized times…(More)”.

The AI That Could Heal a Divided Internet

Article by Billy Perrigo: “In the 1990s and early 2000s, technologists made the world a grand promise: new communications technologies would strengthen democracy, undermine authoritarianism, and lead to a new era of human flourishing. But today, few people would agree that the internet has lived up to that lofty goal. 

Today, on social media platforms, content tends to be ranked by how much engagement it receives. Over the last two decades politics, the media, and culture have all been reshaped to meet a single, overriding incentive: posts that provoke an emotional response often rise to the top.

Efforts to improve the health of online spaces have long focused on content moderation, the practice of detecting and removing bad content. Tech companies hired workers and built AI to identify hate speech, incitement to violence, and harassment. That worked imperfectly, but it stopped the worst toxicity from flooding our feeds. 

There was one problem: while these AIs helped remove the bad, they didn’t elevate the good. “Do you see an internet that is working, where we are having conversations that are healthy or productive?” asks Yasmin Green, the CEO of Google’s Jigsaw unit, which was founded in 2010 with a remit to address threats to open societies. “No. You see an internet that is driving us further and further apart.”

What if there were another way? 

Jigsaw believes it has found one. On Monday, the Google subsidiary revealed a new set of AI tools, or classifiers, that can score posts based on the likelihood that they contain good content: Is a post nuanced? Does it contain evidence-based reasoning? Does it share a personal story, or foster human compassion? By returning a numerical score (from 0 to 1) representing the likelihood of a post containing each of those virtues and others, these new AI tools could allow the designers of online spaces to rank posts in a new way. Instead of posts that receive the most likes or comments rising to the top, platforms could—in an effort to foster a better community—choose to put the most nuanced comments, or the most compassionate ones, first…(More)”.

Generative AI in Journalism

Report by Nicholas Diakopoulos et al: “The introduction of ChatGPT by OpenAI in late 2022 captured the imagination of the public—and the news industry—with the potential of generative AI to upend how people create and consume media. Generative AI is a type of artificial intelligence technology that can create new content, such as text, images, audio, video, or other media, based on the data it has been trained on and according to written prompts provided by users. ChatGPT is the chat-based user interface that made the power and potential of generative AI salient to a wide audience, reaching 100 million users within two months of its launch.

Although similar technology had been around, by late 2022 it was suddenly working, spurring its integration into various products and presenting not only a host of opportunities for productivity and new experiences but also some serious concerns about accuracy, provenance and attribution of source information, and the increased potential for creating misinformation.

This report serves as a snapshot of how the news industry has grappled with the initial promises and challenges of generative AI towards the end of 2023. The sample of participants reflects how some of the more savvy and experienced members of the profession are reacting to the technology.

Based on participants’ responses, they found that generative AI is already changing work structure and organization, even as it triggers ethical concerns around use. Here are some key takeaways:

  • Applications in News Production. The most predominant current use cases for generative AI include various forms of textual content production, information gathering and sensemaking, multimedia content production, and business uses.
  • Changing Work Structure and Organization. There are a host of new roles emerging to grapple with the changes introduced by generative AI including for leadership, editorial, product, legal, and engineering positions.
  • Work Redesign. There is an unmet opportunity to design new interfaces to support journalistic work with generative AI, in particular to enable the human oversight needed for the efficient and confident checking and verification of outputs..(More)”

How artificial intelligence can facilitate investigative journalism

Article by Luiz Fernando Toledo: “A few years ago, I worked on a project for a large Brazilian television channel whose objective was to analyze the profiles of more than 250 guardianship counselors in the city of São Paulo. These elected professionals have the mission of protecting the rights of children and adolescents in Brazil.

Critics had pointed out that some counselors did not have any expertise or prior experience working with young people and were only elected with the support of religious communities. The investigation sought to verify whether these elected counselors had professional training in working with children and adolescents or had any relationships with churches.

After requesting the counselors’ resumes through Brazil’s access to information law, a small team combed through each resume in depth—a laborious and time-consuming task. But today, this project might have required far less time and labor. Rapid developments in generative AI hold potential to significantly scale access and analysis of data needed for investigative journalism.

Many articles address the potential risks of generative AI for journalism and democracy, such as threats AI poses to the business model for journalism and its ability to facilitate the creation and spread of mis- and disinformation. No doubt there is cause for concern. But technology will continue to evolve, and it is up to journalists and researchers to understand how to use it in favor of the public interest.

I wanted to test how generative AI can help journalists, especially those that work with public documents and data. I tested several tools, including Ask Your PDF (ask questions to any documents in your computer), Chatbase (create your own chatbot), and Document Cloud (upload documents and ask GPT-like questions to hundreds of documents simultaneously).

These tools make use of the same mechanism that operates OpenAI’s famous ChatGPT—large language models that create human-like text. But they analyze the user’s own documents rather than information on the internet, ensuring more accurate answers by using specific, user-provided sources…(More)”.

Youth Media Literacy Program Fact Checking Manual

Internews: “As part of the USAID-funded Advancing Rights in Southern Africa Program (ARISA), Internews developed the Youth Media Literacy Program to enhance the digital literacy skills of young people. Drawing from university journalism students, and young leaders from civil society organizations in Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, and South Africa, the program equipped 124 young people to apply critical thinking to online communication and practice improved digital hygiene and digital security practices. The Youth Media Literacy Program Fact Checking Manual was developed to provide additional support and tools to combat misinformation and disinformation and improve online behavior and security…(More)”.

How to Run a Public Records Audit with a Team of Students

Article by By Lam Thuy Vo: “…The Markup (like many other organizations) uses public record requests as an important investigative tool, and we’ve published tips for fellow journalists on how to best craft their requests for specific investigations. But based on where government institutions are located, public record laws vary. Generally, government institutions are required to release documents to anyone who requests them, except when information falls under a specific exemption, like information that invades an individual’s privacy or if there are trade secrets. Federal institutions are governed by the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), but state or local government agencies have their own state freedom of information laws, and they aren’t all identical. 

Public record audits take a step back. By sending the same freedom of information (FOI) request to agencies around the country, audits can help journalists, researchers and everyday people track which agency will release records and which may not, and if they’re complying with state laws. According to the national freedom of information coalition, “audits have led to legislative reforms and the establishment of ombudsman positions to represent the public’s interests.” 

The basics of auditing is simple: Send the same FOI request to different government agencies, document how you followed up, and document the outcome. Here’s how we coordinated this process with student reporters…(More)”.

Algorithmic attention rents: A theory of digital platform market power

Paper by Tim O’Reilly, Ilan Strauss and Mariana Mazzucato: “We outline a theory of algorithmic attention rents in digital aggregator platforms. We explore the way that as platforms grow, they become increasingly capable of extracting rents from a variety of actors in their ecosystems—users, suppliers, and advertisers—through their algorithmic control over user attention. We focus our analysis on advertising business models, in which attention harvested from users is monetized by reselling the attention to suppliers or other advertisers, though we believe the theory has relevance to other online business models as well. We argue that regulations should mandate the disclosure of the operating metrics that platforms use to allocate user attention and shape the “free” side of their marketplace, as well as details on how that attention is monetized…(More)”.