Report on one-day national conference on ‘Artificial Intelligence: The Future of Journalism?’

By Kirti Sinorya, Duheeta Joshi & Dr. Dilnaz Boga
18th January 2020
Madhoprasad Saraf Seminar Hall
Deviprasad Goenka Management College of Media Studies

Motive of the Conference

To initiate a discussion and a debate among academicians, students, journalists and innovators about the various uses of artificial intelligence in the field of journalism at the national level. To bring together all the stakeholders to configure the pros and cons of such technology.

The audience was made up of faculties from various colleges such as N. M College, S. M. Shetty College, S.K. Rai College, SIWS College, SVKM Usha Pravin Gandhi College, Nagindas Khandwala, D.K. Marathe College, S.K. Somaiya College, Lala Lajpat Rai College, Mumbai University as well as students. Senior students from DGMC (MACJ and TYBMM) also attended the national conference.

Chief Guest Ms. Meenal Baghel, Assistant Executive Editor, Bennett & Coleman Company Limited, and Editor-in-Chief of the popular tabloid, Mumbai Mirror, explained how news agencies all over the world were using AI to accomplish various tedious tasks in a short amount of time. However, she warned against the dependence on machines and clearly stated that it was not possible for machines to understand the intricacies of human emotions, especially in times of political upheaval.

The keynote address was delivered by Dr. Shine K. George, former journalist, AI innovator and Associate Professor of Computer Applications at the Union Christian College, Alwaye, Kochi in Kerala. Dr. George provided a general view of the numerous news digital tools which help journalists to collect. He also provided examples of how various news wires and international news agencies optimised the utilisation of AI to make news reports in his detailed presentation titled ‘AI: Enabled Journalism’. Elaborating on the use of various artificial intelligence platforms in the procurement, construction and dissemination of news globally, Dr George advocated the use of AI in journalism in India.

Citing examples with the help of diagrams, Dr. George explained to the audience how the BBC used SALCO, Bloomberg used a software called Cyborg and how the Washington Post used Heliograph for producing news. Other software such as Crime Buster are currently being used for fact-checking and other specialized AI such as Quakebot are able to detect earthquakes in minutes and report it, too. Dr. George also asked the audience members to learn more about Robo Journalism through Nicholas Diakopoulos’ book Automating the News.

The second speaker, Executive Editor from The Hindu, V. Sudarshan enthralled the captive audience with his one-liners right from the beginning of his lecture and also elaborated on how the advent of technology had always proved to beneficial in his career. He failed to perceive any adverse implications with the use of AI in journalism.

Sudarshan connected with the audience in a different manner, bringing a different outlook to the conference by citing examples of science fiction books and movies he had read as a child. Sudarshan mentioned Philip Dick’s books which were later transformed into films. He gave examples on how he viewed AI as a helping hand to the human race. Sudarshan drew the audience into the antecedents of AI when he mentioned Tesla, Neuralink and the IBM computer “debate”, which could actually prevail over debates with humans. Sudarshan also threw light on how AI was pioneering the world of precision medical science. He cited an example of Hugh Heir, the founder of Center of Bionics and how he helped his friend to climb a mountain again after suffering from an ankle injury, with a help of an AI-based prosthetic leg.

Sebin Poulouse, Editor & MD at Newage and former business Bureau Chief and Regional Head at Indiavision TV in Kochi was the next speaker. Poulouse, a media entrepreneur, in his presentation, stressed on the business side of newspaper publishing and welcomed the involvement of AI in news generation and dissemination. Being a media entrepreneur, he emphasised on the evolving modes of the production, consumption and dissemination of print and digital formats of news. Predicting that newspapers will integrate in e-commerce and the rapid expansion of news aggregated platforms in the future, Poulouse stressed on the role of the changing face of media entrepreneurship in India. Poulouse also foresees AI creating what he refers to as “real people journalism”, a type of journalism which people want.
In this manner, Poulouse contributed to the topic of what would be the mood and mode of AI in future journalism. Poulouse also referred to the theory Future Shocks authored by Alwin Toffler in 1970, as a certain psychological state of individuals and entire societies, or a personal perception of “too much change in too short a period of time”. Poulouse stated that all journalism of the future will be Vertical journalism, where people will only consume news on screens of various gadgets. Emphasising the bifurcation between News Value versus Use Value Journalism, Poulouse ended his speech elaborating on the contouring of a people-centric way of producing news.

The next speaker at the national conference was Assistant Professor Dr. Faiz Ullah from the Centre for the Study of Contemporary Culture, School of Media and Cultural Studies at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (Mumbai). In an insightful speech, Dr. Faiz related the use of AI to the burgeoning global industry of Surveillance Capitalism, while referring to behavioral surplus.

Dr. Faiz discussed how the introduction of AI in journalism has impacted both reporting and content. Invoking Jurgen Habermas on media and democracy, he mentioned how the conceptual public sphere would be shaped, influenced and managed by such advances in technology. Although it would make news freely and easily accessible with a disregard to status, the news consumption process would be controlled by hegemonic forces, both visible and invisible. Highlighting common concerns, Dr. Faiz recommended that the introduction of AI in news would entail critical rational discourse as dealing with the metadata gathered would pose to be a concern area in our society. Dr. Faiz is solely concerned in unethical practices by wired media.

In the post-lunch session, there was a panel discussion titled, ‘Data Mining & Machine Learning: The Future of AI and Journalism?’, where Senior Editor at the Economic Times Suman Layek was moderating the debate between media analyst Geeta Seshu who also founded the magazine Humanscape, Satyen Bordoloi, an independent documentary filmmaker, journalist and activist, The Hindu’s Executive Editor V. Sudarshan, and founder of Women Against Cyber Abuse foundation (WACA) also former journalist at Tehelka and current professor at Hinduja College, Vibha Singh.

Bordoloi began the session and presented satirical videos on fake news offices and how fake news can create havoc in people’s lives. Making his point about the negative impact of AI on journalism, Bordoloi cautioned the audience about the weaponsiation of high technology by those in power and the collective consequences on the public at large. Since technology can only be produced by powerful individuals or organisations, its use will only benefit them, he further elaborated.

Former journalist Vibha Singh disagreed with Bordoloi and elucidated upon how technology had saved her time and energy and had made reporting easier in the last few years. Layek then asked Sudarshan for his views and he concurred with Singh by stating that in his 26 years in journalism, he has closely observed the positive impact of technology on the business of news and all the losses incurred by the newspapers could not be blamed on technology but on market forces.

Layek then asked Seshu for her remarks and she retorted with her views on how machine learning can be detrimental to society as the data fed into the machine might be prejudiced. This could multiply the effects of propaganda and relegate truth to an unknowable realm. Countering points made by Singh earlier, Seshu reminded the audience that journalism entailed a lot more than getting quotes easily from officials with the use of multiple technologies of various platforms. In fact, she opined that an unhealthy reliance on such platforms would work against the journalist and make him/her lazy. She also spoke on how AI could actually displace a journalist’s job and their editorial skills.

The panel discussion concluded that though there’s a risk that AI in the field of journalism could give rise to lazy journalism including inculcation of poor journalistic ethics, multiple versions of the same news, propagation of fake news and political propaganda, it was a helping hand if one used it effectively. The central idea was that machines should be controlled by humans and not vice versa.

After the end of discussion, three participants shared their views on the conference. Faculties from other colleges acknowledged the contribution of the discourse and considered incorporating the subject of AI to their courses in communication. A student admired the topic of discussion and elaborated on its relevance in this day and age for students of journalism and communication.

Finally, Dean Mukesh Sharma summed up the entire day’s proceedings in a short speech, discussing the merits and demerits of AI in journalism. The vote of thanks was delivered by DGMC’s principal Dr. Amee Vora, where she individually showed her gratitude to the team behind the conference. The Valedictory speech was succinctly delivered by Layek and he presented the participants of the conference with certificates acknowledging their presence.