Do you want a robot to write your obituary?
As we sit on the edge of a new age poised to disrupt not just media, but everything, it is worth asking yourself: what do you want from what is still to come? What do you not want to lose?
Because to look ahead 15 years, to 2038, we really need only examine one influence: artificial intelligence.
“AI will disrupt every industry within the next decade,” says strategy consultancy the Future Today Institute.
“Like the steam engine and the internet before it, AI has the potential to influence entire economies and to alter society through political, economic and social structures. AI is now used across most industries, solving business problems, detecting fraud,
improving crop yields, managing supply chains, recommending products and assisting designers and writers in creative work.”
Over two thirds said AI would have the biggest impact on business in a survey of media executives released this month by the World Association of News Publishers.
Of course, those of us who work in media are no stranger to upheaval.
A rise in literacy made the town crier obsolete centuries ago, in what began a long tradition of disruption within the industry. Each new phenomenon – radio, television, the internet – brought a complex web of challenges and opportunities.
AI is both no different and wildly different from these previous disruptors.
In interviews with futurists, technologists and academics, themes emerged for where major potential lies when it comes to AI and the media: content generation, personalisation and, that bedrock of journalism, the pursuit of truth.
Ray Johnson, chief executive of Abu Dhabi’s applied research hub the Technology Innovation Institute, is optimistic when it comes to AI’s influence over the media business.
“The media industry and journalism are certainly going to witness immense change,” he told The National.
“Generative AI and large language models, such as ChatGPT, as well as Noor and Falcon – TII’s Arabic and English LLMs – are changing how we generate content.”
TII’s Noor, the world’s largest Arabic NLP model, composed an entire article in Arabic, which was then published by Arabic-language newspaper Al Ittihad.
In addition to content generation, “one of AI’s strengths is crunching lots of data at high speed and high accuracy”, Mr Johnson said, meaning it can be a powerful tool for fact checking and identifying errors.
“The more it reviews, the more it learns, and the better it gets at doing the task.”
Bringing AI into the newsroom can help the editorial side as well as the business side of media.
“AI and machine learning can also support the newspaper industry with advanced analytics helping media houses tailor their content,” Mr Johnson said.
“They will gain valuable insights from analysing customer data to tailor advertisements and personalise news feeds for readers to keep them engaged, boost subscribers and maximise revenue.
“Overall, AI presents the newspaper industry with a huge opportunity to better engage its readers, offer a more personalised experience and make efficiency savings across its operations.”
The rise of “fake news” and the negative impact the phenomenon has on individuals and societies is a key research area at Abu Dhabi’s dedicated AI university.
“We anticipate that the trend of digital news consumption will continue to grow in the next 15 years, and producers of fake and misleading content will inevitably seek to use AI-based systems to help them to produce such content quickly and at scale,” Preslav Nakov, a professor of natural language processing at Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence, told The National.
AI will help media organisations detect fake news and assist human fact-checkers, he said.
To do this, AI systems can be trained to detect fake news based on word choice and sentence structure, the content’s origins, if it came from a website known to be a common source of fake news and by identifying who is spreading it on social media.
“In this way, AI-based systems can move rapidly enough to detect potentially fake news and to alert human fact-checkers before the content goes viral,” Prof Nakov said.
“By learning to find the most common sources of fake news rapidly, AI will technically be able to halt it at the source by flagging domains that should be blocked or flagged as originators of fake and malign content. Similarly, AI will play an important role in detecting deep-fake videos, which will pose an increasing risk of misleading the public in the coming years.
“While media outlets in the coming decades can also deploy AI for a range of tasks, from filtering large data sets through machine learning, to detecting breaking news events across social media, using AI to root out fake news and content will continue to
be a key priority for media outlets to maintain credibility with consumers.”
Slavica Ceperkovic, a visiting professor of interactive media at New York University Abu Dhabi, has a front row seat to how media is changing. Her students – who are learning to build new worlds in augmented and virtual reality – are adapting fast to this changing technological landscape, using online AI tools such as Notion and Discord to organise their work and what they are learning, she told The National.
They often attempt to multitask, sitting in class with at least one AirPod in their ear.
And they don’t discriminate when it comes to the medium their information comes in – though short-form video, as seen with the meteoric rise of TikTok, is having a moment of popularity.
Will it last? Prof Ceperkovic doesn’t think so.
Looking ahead to 2038 is “a design fiction” because the rate of change is just too fast, she said.
For now, VR gear – the headsets we don to go into virtual worlds – is a one-way mechanism to take in media. And that may be its fatal flaw.
It lacks the keyboard and camera our smartphones are equipped with, allowing any one of us to become broadcasters at any moment.
This puts the smartphone at an advantage in the future of media: it is a two-way mechanism for both taking in and capturing content. This makes it a powerful, durable, tool and leaves a future of mixed reality media at a potential disadvantage when it comes to adoption, she said.
What’s (really) next?
Patrick Noack, the executive director of future foresight and imagination at the Dubai Future Foundation, sees a booming content verification business that ensures the written word is coming from humans and is accurate, supported by technological advances.
“The best verifiers – used by the best newspapers – will be fiercely independent,” he told The National.
And this leaves room for something a bit less serious.
“Not all readers will want this: some outlets will provide entertainment, sensationalism, mindlessly satisfying content,” he said.
“Others will follow a more narrow and segmented purposed remit which may be laser-like focused on civic education, long-form reporting, opinion pieces, graphic novels or sports.
“In future, like in the past, catch-all papers that try to cover everything will struggle: several free London printed papers have folded because they were too similar, too catch-all and wasteful.”
And finally, it wouldn’t be a story about the future of media without someone predicting the death of print.
Mr Noack is willing to make the leap.
“Printed newspapers are likely to disappear and be wholly replaced by digital delivery,” he said.
And while this won’t happen by 2038, he said rest assured: your verified newspaper will someday be delivered at “precisely the instant your morning coffee is ready: straight to your brain via neural interfaces”.
We’ll see if it’s a robot that has written the obit section.