While job security in almost all areas has been severely impacted by the coronavirus pandemic and its effects on the economy, it is an artificial intelligence AI that has ended up taking the jobs of some workers. Microsoft News fired dozens of editors this week, according to the Business Insider news website. These layoffs, which also affect other information platforms of the company, are part of a larger effort by Microsoft to rely on artificial intelligence to select the information and content presented on MSN.com, in Microsoft’s Edge browser, and in the company’s various Microsoft News applications.
MSN, Microsoft’s long-standing web portal, has already gone through many changes since its launch in 1995, known as Microsoft Network. For much of the 2000s, it offered original articles and links to other services, such as weather forecasts and email.
In 2014, he stopped producing articles on his own initiative and began to entrust a team of editors with the task of selecting, adapting, and highlighting articles produced by external media partners. The MSN.com news aggregator, however, remained a leading destination for news. According to Business Insider, Comscore ranks the website among the best sites in the United States, and Microsoft News, meanwhile, claims to reach nearly half a billion people in 140 countries.
At the end of June, MSN will readjust itself again, laying off about fifty employees and replacing them with AI algorithms that will identify the best articles, rewrite the titles, and find the best photos, effectively automating most of the tasks that were up to present performed by humans. The layoffs have affected all of its sub-contractors in the United States hired as human writers to help choose the articles, according to people familiar with the situation. Business Insider reported citing the Guardian that job losses at Microsoft News are also affecting international teams. About 27 people are said to be laid off in the UK after Microsoft decided to stop employing human workers to write articles on its pages
This decision could make many professionals in the publishing industry shiver, long worried about budget cuts, and increasing automation. “Like all businesses, we regularly assess our business,” said a Microsoft spokesperson in a statement. He added that “this can lead to increased investment in some places and, from time to time, redeployment in others. These decisions are not the result of the current pandemic. ”
Although Microsoft says the layoffs are not directly related to the current coronavirus pandemic, media companies around the world have been hit hard by falling advertising revenues on television, newspapers, online, and more.
Microsoft has long convinced publishers with human editorial judgment on its platforms
Dozens of journalists and editorial staff of Microsoft News and MSN are to be replaced by robots, as Microsoft has long since explained, to convince its publishing partners, that the company uses AI to select the large quantity of information that she needs to sift through, but that she has humans to keep the site up to date and apply editorial judgment when it comes to presenting big news, Business Insider reported. According to the website, in 2018 Darren Laybourn, who, until the start of the year, oversaw Microsoft News, said the company relied on 800 people worldwide for that. Microsoft News pulls photos, videos, and articles from more than 1,000 publisher partners, including Business Insider.
Microsoft News uses AI to scan content, understand “dimensions like originality, category, subject type, opinion content, and potential popularity, and then presents them to our publishers.” Our algorithms suggest appropriate photos to associate with the content to bring the articles to life. Editors then organize the best stories throughout the day, on a variety of topics, so that our readers get the latest news from the best sources, ”says the news aggregator on his website.
Switching to the AI algorithm at the expense of human judgment could undermine the quality of information, according to some dismissed employees.
In recent months, Microsoft has gradually turned to AI for its work on Microsoft News and has encouraged publishers and journalists to use AI as well. According to Business Insider, some current and former employees, who preferred to remain anonymous, saw a link between the move from Microsoft News to algorithms and Microsoft’s Bing search engine, which is based on algorithms. Indeed, when Bing was launched in 2009, the press team was invited to send traffic from Microsoft News to Bing. Over the years, Microsoft has brought Microsoft News and Bing together, and earlier this year, reorganization placed Microsoft News under Bing’s umbrella, sources said.
Some of these sources have expressed skepticism about moving to an algorithm-based approach, Business Insider reported. According to them, their job was not simply to cut and paste the stories provided by partner outlets on the MSN home page. Some form of editorial responsibility still remained, they argued, for editors to ensure, for example, that the articles complied with their strict internal editorial guidelines on content that was violent or potentially inappropriate for young readers.
While the sources recognized that most readers would not notice a difference in an AI-based news site, they also fear that the changes will worsen and decrease the user experience. The usefulness of the site for readers as the pandemic makes news essential. However, for Microsoft, the reductions will certainly translate into savings, although the quality of the information provided could also be undermined by the reduction in human surveillance.
The COVID-19 crisis, which has pushed governments to discourage human contact, has accelerated the use of AI, according to reports published in recent months. The constraints imposed by COVID-19 prevent employees from going to their workplaces or from working as before, thus disrupting supply chains. According to a MarketWatch report published in April, American companies are throwing thousands into the acquisition of robots in an attempt to limit the damage. According to the report, around 50 million jobs could be automated in essential industries alone, with robots taking up human jobs even faster.
The same people who have been laid off may have trained their AI replacements. “Everything was semi-automated for a few months, but now it’s at full capacity,” said one of the laid-off workers at the Seattle Times. “It’s demoralizing to think that machines can replace us, but they can.” Let’s wait to see the headlines published by robots on the Internet.