Like pretty much everyone else in the past few months, journalists have been trying out generative AI tools like ChatGPT to see whether they can help us do our jobs better. AI software can’t call sources and wheedle information out of them, but it can produce half-decent transcripts of those calls, and new generative AI tools can condense hundreds of pages of those transcripts into a summary.
Writing stories is another matter, though. A few publications have tried—sometimes with disastrous results. It turns out current AI tools are very good at churning out convincing (if formulaic) copy riddled with falsehoods.
This is WIRED, so we want to be on the front lines of new technology, but also to be ethical and appropriately circumspect. Here, then, are some ground rules on how we are using the current set of generative AI tools. We recognize that AI will develop and so may modify our perspective over time, and we’ll acknowledge any changes in this post. We welcome feedback in the comments.
Text Generators (e.g. LaMDA, ChatGPT)
We do not publish stories with text generated by AI, except when the fact that it’s AI-generated is the whole point of the story. (In such cases we’ll disclose the use and flag any errors.) This applies not just to whole stories but also to snippets—for example, ordering up a few sentences of boilerplate on how Crispr works or what quantum computing is. It also applies to editorial text on other platforms, such as email newsletters. (If we use it for non-editorial purposes like marketing emails, which are already automated, we will disclose that.)
This is for obvious reasons: The current AI tools are prone to both errors and bias, and often produce dull, unoriginal writing. In addition, we think someone who writes for a living needs to constantly be thinking about the best way to express complex ideas in their own words. Finally, an AI tool may inadvertently plagiarize someone else’s words. If a writer uses it to create text for publication without a disclosure, we’ll treat that as tantamount to plagiarism.
We do not publish text edited by AI either. While using AI to, say, shrink an existing 1,200-word story to 900 words might seem less problematic than writing a story from scratch, we think it still has pitfalls. Aside from the risk that the AI tool will introduce factual errors or changes in meaning, editing is also a matter of judgment about what is most relevant, original, or entertaining about the piece. This judgment depends on understanding both the subject and the readership, neither of which AI can do.
We may try using AI to suggest headlines or text for short social media posts. We currently generate lots of suggestions manually, and an editor has to approve the final choices for accuracy. Using an AI tool to speed up idea generation won’t change this process substantively.
We may try using AI to generate story ideas. An AI might help the process of brainstorming with a prompt like “Suggest stories about the impact of genetic testing on privacy,” or “Provide a list of cities where predictive policing has been controversial.” This may save some time and we will keep exploring how this can be useful. But some limited testing we’ve done has shown that it can also produce false leads or boring ideas. In any case, the real work, which only humans can do, is in evaluating which ones are worth pursuing. Where possible, for any AI tool we use, we will acknowledge the sources it used to generate information.