Brandon Hunter, a 42-year-old basketball player who previously played for the Boston Celtics and the Orlando Magic died on Tuesday, collapsing after hot yoga. And while most obituaries included lovely tributes from people who knew the man, news outlet MSN published something so heartless, it’s widely assumed it was written by artificial intelligence with no human oversight.
How bad is MSN’s article about Hunter? The news item, credited only to an unnamed “Editor,” includes the headline, “Brandon Hunter useless at 42.”
“Former NBA participant Brandon Hunter, who beforehand performed for the Boston Celtics and Orlando Magic, has handed away on the age of 42, as introduced by Ohio males’s basketball coach Jeff Boals on Tuesday,” the MSN article began using awkward phrasing and poor grammar.
The article was deleted on Thursday afternoon, but is still available to read through the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine.
The news outlet Futurism was the first to report on MSN’s horrific article about Hunter, pointing out that Microsoft fired its human news curators in 2020, leading to some pretty embarrassing stories making the front page of the website. Futurism also notes that MSN’s obituary of Hunter is essentially just a remixed version of TMZ’s story on Hunter’s death.
Artificial intelligence tools are being used in a wide variety of environments these days, with generative AI becoming much more common in the past two years thanks to the launch of ChatGPT’s public facing service in late 2022. And while tools like ChatGPT may seem like miracles to many of the people who use them, they’re plagued with problems stemming from limits in this emerging field of tech.
AI is essentially performing a magic trick by spitting out information as a fancy kind of predictive text. But the technology has no idea what it’s saying, even if it appears to generate text like a human. And it’s precise because it’s not human that you can get heartless articles like the one about Hunter’s death.
But all those limitations haven’t stopped countless companies from experimenting with generative AI programs, with many even assuming they can replace human writers and editors. G/O Media, which owns websites like Gizmodo, The Onion and Jezebel, has published a number of articles using AI in recent months, though it’s been quite a rocky start. The company’s first attempt was a chronological Star Wars list of movies from the franchise that wasn’t even chronological. And it’s only gotten worse from there. I worked for Gizmodo for 10 years but AI had yet to invade the newsroom.
MSN didn’t immediately respond to questions emailed Thursday afternoon. I’ll update this article if I hear back.