In November, noble tech outlet CNET began publishing articles generated by artificial intelligence, on topics such as personal finance, which proved to be full of errors. Now the human members of its editorial staff are unionizing, calling on their bosses to provide better conditions for workers and more transparency and accountability around the use of AI.
“In this time of instability, our diverse content teams need industry-standard job protections, fair compensation, editorial independence, and a voice in the decision-making process, especially when automation technology threatens our jobs and reputation,” reads the mission statement of the CNET Media Workers Union, whose more than 100 members include writers, editors, video producers, and other content creators.
While the organizing effort began before CNET began overseeing the AI rollout, its employees will be among the first unions to force its bosses to put guardrails around the use of content created by generative AI services like ChatGPT. Any deal struck with CNET’s parent company, Red Ventures, would help set a precedent for how companies approach technology. Many digital media outlets have recently cut staff, with some like BuzzFeed and Sports Illustrated simultaneously embracing AI-generated content. Red Ventures did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In Hollywood, AI-powered writing is prompting a workers’ revolt. The striking screenwriters want studios to agree to ban AI authorship and never ask writers to adapt AI-generated scripts. The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers rejected that proposal, instead offering to hold annual meetings to discuss technological advances. CNET’s screenwriters and staff are both represented by the Writers Guild of America.
While CNET bills itself as “your guide to a better future,” the 30-year-old publication late last year stumbled into the new world of generative AI that can produce text or images. In January, the science and technology website Futurism revealed that in November, CNET quietly began publishing AI-authorized explainers such as “What is Zelle and How Does It Work?” The stories were run under the byline “CNET Money Staff,” and readers had to hover their cursor over them to learn that the articles were written “using automation technology.”
A stream of embarrassing revelations followed. The Verge reports that more than half of AI-generated stories contain factual errors, prompting CNET to issue sometimes lengthy corrections to 41 out of 77 articles written by bot. The tool used by editors also shows plagiarized work from competing news outlets, as generative AI tends to do.
Former editor-in-chief Connie Guglielmo later wrote that a plagiarism-detection tool had been misused or failed and that the site was conducting additional checks. A former staffer demanded that his byline be removed from the site, worried that AI would be used to update his stories in an effort to attract more traffic from Google search results.
In response to the negative attention CNET’s AI project received, Guglielmo published an article stating that the outlet was testing an “internally designed AI engine” and that “AI engines, like of people, make mistakes.” However, he promised to make some changes to the site’s disclosure and citation policies and continue its experiment with robot authorship. In March, he resigned from his post as editor in chief and now leads the outlet’s AI editing strategy.