In November, Jalil Technology company CNET began publishing articles generated by artificial intelligence, on topics such as personal finance, that proved to be riddled with errors. Today, human editorial staff have unionized, calling on their bosses for better conditions for workers and more transparency and accountability around the use of AI.
“In this time of instability, our diverse content teams need industry-standard job protections, fair compensation, editorial independence, and a voice in the decision-making process, especially as automated technology threatens our jobs and reputations,” reads the CNET Media Workers Union mission statement. , which includes more than 100 member writers, editors, video producers, and other content creators.
While the regulatory effort began before CNET management began rolling out AI, its employees could become one of the first unions to force their bosses to put up protections around the use of content produced by generative AI services like ChatGPT. Any agreement struck with CNET’s parent company, Red Ventures, could help set a precedent for how companies approach technology. Several digital media outlets have recently cut staff, with some like BuzzFeed and Sports Illustrated simultaneously embracing AI-generated content. Red Ventures did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In Hollywood, AI-generated writing has sparked a workers’ uprising. Incredible Screenwriters wants studios to agree to ban AI authorship and never require writers to adapt AI-generated scripts. The Motion Picture and Television Producers Alliance rejected this proposal, offering instead to hold annual meetings to discuss technological developments. CNET’s screenwriters and staff are represented by the Writers Guild of America.
While CNET bills itself as “your guide to a better future,” the 30-year-old post late last year stumbled clumsily into the new world of generative AI that can generate text or images. In January, science and technology website Futurism revealed that in November, CNET quietly began publishing AI-composed explanations such as “What is Zelle and how does it work?” The stories were shown under the headline “CNET Money Staff,” and readers had to hover their cursor over them to know that the articles were written “using automation technology.”
A barrage of embarrassing revelations followed. The Verge reported that more than half of the stories generated by the AI contained factual errors, prompting CNET to issue sometimes lengthy corrections to 41 of the 77 articles written by the bot. The tool the editors used also appears to have plagiarized work from competing news outlets, as generative AI is typical.
Editor-in-Chief Connie Guglielmo later wrote that a plagiarism detection tool had been misused or failed and that the site was developing additional checks. A former employee demanded her byline be removed from the site, concerned that artificial intelligence would be used to update her stories in an effort to drive more traffic from Google search results.
In response to the negative attention on CNET’s AI project, Guglielmo published an article saying that the outlet is testing an “internal AI engine” and that “AI engines, like humans, make mistakes”. However, it has pledged to make some changes to the site’s disclosure and citation policies and move forward with its bot authoring experiment. In March, she stepped down as editor-in-chief and now heads the outlet’s AI editorial strategy.