BuzzFeed’s CEO says AI could usher in a ‘new model for digital media,’ but warns against a ‘dystopian’ path
Over the holidays, while most media executives were perhaps looking to get a reprieve from work, Jonah Peretti was online, fully immersed in experimenting with artificial intelligence.
The BuzzFeed co-founder and chief executive, who has always raced to test out the latest technologies, was familiar with AI and predictions of how it could one day revolutionize the media industry. In fact, BuzzFeed had dabbled in using it over the years.
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But Peretti, sitting in his California home in late December, started probing how the developing robot writing technology could quickly be infused into the very DNA of BuzzFeed.
In a phone interview Thursday, Peretti said that as he and a handful of colleagues prototyped how the technology could be used to enhance the site’s hallmark quizzes, interactive articles, and other types of content, he found himself genuinely having fun. “It started to feel like we were all playing,” Peretti recalled.
That “playful work,” as he described it, soon “led to multiple Google docs full of the implications of the technology and how [BuzzFeed] could build this into our platform and how we could extend it to other formats.”
Those efforts culminated in Peretti’s formal announcement on Thursday: That BuzzFeed will work with ChatGPT creator OpenAI to assist in the creation of content for its audience and move artificial intelligence into the “core business.”
Peretti said that he understood people might read the news and conclude that BuzzFeed was, in short, moving to replace humans with robots. But Peretti insisted that is not his vision for the technology, even as he predicted other companies will likely go down that dark path.
“I think that there are two paths for AI in digital media,” Peretti said. “One path is the obvious path that a lot of people will do — but it’s a depressing path — using the technology for cost savings and spamming out a bunch of SEO articles that are lower quality than what a journalist could do, but a tenth of the cost. That’s one vision, but to me, that’s a depressing vision and a shortsighted vision because in the long run it’s not going to work.”
“The other path,” Peretti continued, “which is the one that gets me really excited, is the new model for digital media that is more personalized, more creative, more dynamic — where really talented people who work at our company are able to use AI together and entertain and personalize more than you could ever do without AI.”
Put more simply, Peretti said he envisions artificial intelligence being used to enhance the work of his employees, not replace them.
The example the company provided is the BuzzFeed quiz. Typically, a human would write the questions and perhaps a dozen responses that would be delivered to the user based on their inputs. But, with AI, the staffer could write the questions and the software could spit out a highly personalized response for the user. In the supplied example, a user would take a quick quiz and the AI would write a short RomCom using the data provided.
“We don’t have to train the AI to be as good as the BuzzFeed writers because we have the BuzzFeed writers, so they can inject language, ideas, cultural currency and write them into prompts and the format,” Peretti said. “And then the AI pulls it together and creates a new piece of content.”
Peretti indicated that he had no interest in utilizing artificial intelligence to replace human journalists for authoring news articles, as the technology outlet CNET recently did with disastrous consequences (dozens of the outlet’s stories written by AI were riddled with errors that required correcting.)
“There’s the CNET path, and then there is the path that BuzzFeed is focused on,” Peretti said. “One is about costs and volume of content, and one is about ability.”
“Even if there are a lot of bad actors who try to use AI to make content farms, it won’t win in the long run,” Peretti predicted. “I think the content farm model of AI will feel very depressing and dystopian.”
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