Dozens of contract journalists at Microsoft’s MSN and Microsoft News organizations are being phased out in favor of artificial intelligence, according to multiple reports This week.
Between Wednesday and Thursday, about 50 employees received the news that their contract would not be renewed after their June 30 expiry date. All are employed by external agencies, including 27 authors with the UK’s PA Media Group, according to and Guardian Report.
“Like all companies, we evaluate our business on a regular basis,” a Microsoft spokesman said in a statement via Seattle Times. “This can result in increased investment in some locations and, occasionally, relocation in others. These decisions are not the result of the current pandemic. ”
Former employees spoke on terms of anonymity told the Seattle Times and Business Insider that, going forward, MSN will use AI to perform its previous tasks. Full-time manufacturers of Microsoft direct employees and performing similar functions will remain on staff.
Microsoft’s news organizations already relied on algorithms to find the most popular trend stories from the company’s many publishing partners (MSN) preserved all original content years ago), but still relied on old-fashioned, meat-and-blood writers to help frame this content by fine-tuning wordings, headlines and photos. Contract staff were also responsible for certain day-to-day operations such as maintaining editorial calendars for MSN partner news sites or compiling scheduled content.
“It has been semi-automated for a few months but now it is at full speed,” one of the completed contractors told the Seattle Times. “It’s demoralizing to think that machines can replace us but there you go.”
Another employee expressed a similar feeling to the Guardian. “I spend all my time reading about how automation and AI will take all our jobs, and here I am – AI has taken my job.”
They added that replacing contract journalists with software could end up in Microsoft’s face given the “very strict editorial guidelines” the company gave them to keep violent or inappropriate content from the front page. Even the most sophisticated machine is more likely than a person to miss important shades that may come to the readers as insensitive or offensive. Microsoft did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for further details on how AI will be integrated into MSN’s production process.
Many stores have expanded the role of AI and machine learning in their newsrooms for several years now. The Associated Press, Reuters and Washington Post are among several who have adopted automated content management systems, whether by proposing headlines, analyzing the daily flood of press releases, posts and comments, or helping to cover what reporters may not always be able to, such as local sports and elections. Google has also begun funding automated news projects and designing training resources for journalists to integrate AI into their newsrooms.
But this round of layoffs from Microsoft seems particularly tone-deaf considering it at the moment stagnant labor market and record levels of unemployment in the midst of the crown virus crisis. Not that there ever is one Right it’s time to hear that your job is being replaced by a robot, that is.