Fourth estate must evolve to meet the demands of AI

Journalism education must incorporate AI into its curriculum

In the crowded landscape of our digital age, where every piece of information is just a click away, the role of media has never been more crucial. The advent of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in this sphere brings forth both unprecedented opportunities and daunting challenges, shaping not just how we consume news, but also our perception of reality.

In this era of infinite choices, we find ourselves confronted with the dual conundrum of limitless information and increasingly limited attention spans. The compounding effect of this is large, resulting in widespread decision fatigue, a culture of divisive silos and oversimplification, burnout, and the erosion of deep reflection. In such a moment in history, it becomes imperative to recognise that the media plays an indispensable role in the fabric of our democracy. As citizens and consumers of news, we are confronted with a concerning predicament: amidst the information avalanche, how do we filter what we focus on? How much do we consume, and how do we engage with it?

The fourth estate must evolve to meet the demands of the digital age by recognising its commitment to a journalism that is not only free, but also responsible. As powerful authorities behind the making of ‘truth’ for large sections of the public, the media’s engagement with modern information technology, especially the rising potential of AI, presents a dual-edged sword.

On the one hand, AI engagement with media has been ground-breaking, introducing innovations like big data journalism. Media organisations have embraced AI, transforming news consumption experiences. From AI-generated anchors like Lisa on OTV to AI Kaur on News18 Punjab Haryana, Hindi and regional news channels are actively incorporating AI with notable enthusiasm. Malayala Manorama’s digital arm Manorama Online has also used smart AI to tailor a comprehensive reading experience to viewers, including new multimedia to provide audio and video content, besides text. This technological integration has the potential to rejuvenate investigative and documentary journalism.

Looking ahead, the integration of AI promises immersive experiences through AI-crafted audio and video pieces, as well as virtual and augmented reality. However, as we celebrate these remarkable strengths, it is essential to remain acutely aware of the significant harm that unchecked AI usage might introduce to our democracy.

One significant concern is the potential for AI to exacerbate the echo chamber effect, limiting exposure to diverse viewpoints. As algorithms tailor content to individual preferences, there is a risk of reinforcing existing biases and narrowing the scope of information available to the public. Striking a delicate balance between personalised content and the need for a well-rounded, unbiased information diet becomes paramount in safeguarding the democratic ideals that underpin journalism.

The allure of curating personalised news with AI assistance risks creating echo chambers. Moreover, the rise of deepfake technology poses a threat to distorting reality itself, raising grave ethical conundrums about accountability when an AI model goes astray. To navigate this complex terrain, specific measures must be adopted. First, media organisations must embed transparency as a core ethos, clearly communicating when news artefacts are AI-generated to ensure citizens are aware of the content’s source. Second, humans must remain in the loop, with AI deployed responsibly and collaboratively with human journalists to guarantee accuracy and integrity. Third, journalism education must incorporate AI into its curriculum, ensuring journalists not only master AI tools but also delve into the ethical and legal nuances accompanying its integration.

In navigating the evolving intersections of AI and media, it is evident that a multifaceted approach is essential. Media organisations must not only harness the innovative potential of AI but also commit to ethical considerations, transparency, and collaboration with human journalists. This collaborative effort, coupled with a focus on educating journalists about AI’s nuances, is integral to steering the course towards a media landscape that is both technologically advanced and ethically grounded. The media must strive to create a unified space where all can converge to debate, discuss, dissent, and collectively determine our path ahead.

In embracing the future, let us remember that it is as much human as it is artificial.

Author is G20 Sherpa. He is ex-CEO, NITI Aayog.