Hidden in plain sight

robot using typewriter
Illustration by Blake Dinsdale / Sources: Adobe Stock and Midjourney.

Published on Show Me Mizzou Sept. 4, 2023
Story by Kelsey Allen, BA, BJ ’10

Artificial intelligence is everywhere. It’s operating when you open your phone with face ID, when you scroll through your Facebook feed and when you watch something recommended for you by Netflix. Yet a new study from researchers at the Missouri School of Journalism finds that nearly half of Americans (48%) are unaware of the role AI plays in their everyday lives. Even fewer understand how the technology is becoming increasingly integrated into newsrooms. 

Using an online survey, Chad S. Owsley, a doctoral student at the journalism school, and co-author Associate Professor Keith Greenwood found that only 29% of respondents were aware of AI use in journalism and 25% thought AI capable of writing or reporting news equal to or better than human journalists. But news organizations including AP, Reuters, Forbes and the Washington Post are not only using AI algorithms to analyze data and identify trends and patterns that then inform news stories but also using AI to write basic news articles, such as sports results or weather updates, allowing journalists to concentrate on more intricate and investigative reporting. 

Their survey results are similar to an earlier European study that found only 47% of respondents were aware of artificial intelligence operating. “It’s a bit surprising,” Owsley says. “If numbers don’t change as the technology progresses, then either there’s regression — we know less than we did prior to that — or we’re staying at the same awareness level even though technology is advancing.”

This lack of awareness raises important questions about the accountability and transparency of the use of AI in the production and publishing of news media. In a time when public trust in the media has declined to historically low levels, Greenwood says the findings should spark new questions about how these tools get implemented in newsrooms: “A lot of organizations will jump on this new technology without stopping to think about the audience. Research like this can prompt someone to say, ‘Let’s think about what our current audiences’ level of understanding is. What do they expect of us? What should we be thinking about as we implement this?’” 

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