Microsoft’s decision to replace human journalists with robots has backfired, after the tech company’s artificial intelligence software illustrated a news story about racism with a photo of the wrong mixed-race member of the band Little Mix.
A week after the Guardian revealed plans to fire the human editors who run MSN.com and replace them with Microsoft’s artificial intelligence code, an early rollout of the software resulted in a story about the singer Jade Thirlwall’s personal reflections on racism being illustrated with a picture of her fellow band member Leigh-Anne Pinnock.
Microsoft does not carry out original reporting but employs human editors to select, edit and repurpose articles from news outlets, including the Guardian. Articles are then hosted on Microsoft’s website and the tech company shares advertising revenue with the original publishers. At the end of last month, Microsoft decided to fire hundreds of journalists in the middle of a pandemic and fully replace them with the artificial intelligence software.
In advance of the publication of this article, staff at MSN were told to expect a negative article in the Guardian about alleged racist bias in the artificial intelligence software that will soon take their jobs.
Because they are unable to stop the new robot editor selecting stories from external news sites such as the Guardian, the remaining human staff have been told to stay alert and delete a version of this article if the robot decides it is of interest and automatically publishes it on MSN.com. They have also been warned that even if they delete it, the robot editor may overrule them and attempt to publish it again.
Staff have already had to delete coverage criticising MSN for running the story about Little Mix with the wrong image after the AI software decided stories about the incident would interest MSN readers.