AI in Journalism: Could robots deal with the spontaneity of live broadcasts?

The threat of artificial intelligence is a topic which I have talked about on this blog many times before. From 1000-word articles on the TV show Humans, to talking about how humanity’s love of patterns could aid the rise of AI, it’s fair to say that robotics and the ethics of artificial intelligence really get me talking.

Photo: A Health Blog on Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/.

As mentioned above, I’ve already discussed whether a structured human life is to blame for AI’s increase. However, this post didn’t touch on journalism – a profession which, when brought down to its basics, can be quite structured.

Whether it’s the inverted pyramid or the typical newsroom routine, there’s a lot of patterns in the job which makes things easy for the journalist. Yet, with structures being things that robots and AI can easily follow, what’s something spontaneous that the cyborgs from the future could struggle to comprehend?

Live broadcasts. It’s when humans accept the complexity of life that the fear of Terminator-style beings taking our jobs is somewhat reduced. Whilst it may be able to use code and probability for interviewees and writing articles, live broadcasts – such as Facebook Live videos – could be difficult for a robot. All it takes is for something to ‘go wrong’ and a robot would have to construct a whole new set of codes to deal with the new direction the report or interview has taken.

Aside from that, there’s some aspects of journalism which I think AI would struggle to replace. Some elements of reporting require humanity (take ‘the death knock’ journalists have to make on a family’s door when a public figure has passed away) which the robotic tone of these computers could struggle to replicate.

Nevertheless, I was left with these ideas after attending a lecture from The Gadget Show’s Jason Bradbury this week on the future of journalism. With a big focus on technology, of course artificial intelligence came up.

As well as this, Wednesday saw me take part in my first Facebook Live broadcast.  I had previously been behind the camera, but on International Women’s Day, I reported on a ‘Reclaim the Night’ event. This was organised by the University of Lincoln Students’ Union and saw students march against sexual harassment, abuse and inequality.

I covered the proceedings for the university’s student newspaper, and you can view my Facebook Live from the event on The Linc’s page here.

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Humans series two: A thought-provoking show which explores the concept of humanity

Warning: This post contains spoilers for series two of Channel 4’s Humans. Please do not read this if you have not yet watched up to the series finale, which aired on December 18, 2016.

Humanity’s fear of robots and artificial intelligence is formed from a variety of different concerns, but one of the most interesting points which makes up this fear is the idea that AI reflects humanity right back at us. Robots are mirrors and voids. Whilst we assign meaning to them, they prompt us to question our very own purpose and behaviour. What makes us human? Well, it’s a question the Channel 4 drama Humans continues to try and answer in its second series, which appeared on our screens in October.

From left: Laura (Katherine Parkinson), Mia (Gemma Chan), Joe (Tom Goodman-Hill), Toby (Theo Stevenson) and Sophie (Pixie Davies). Photo: Channel 4 Press.
One of the other concerns society has about AI is the idea of them making our human roles redundant. It’s something we saw in the first series of the show (for example, Anita getting in the way of Laura’s responsibilities as a mother) and this was developed in series two when Joe lost his job due to the synthetics. Similarly, as well as looking into the idea of humans losing some of their responsibilities or jobs in life, the new set of episodes also asks what would happen when a synth loses its original purpose.

When Odi (Will Tudor) is brought back to life thanks to the consciousness program, he decides that it isn’t a life for him and restores himself back to ‘setup mode’. In his final scene in the series, he says: “I long for the past. I felt nothing then but I had a purpose. A place in the world.” It’s a tragic subplot which offers a pleasant – albeit sad – break from the intensity of the main plot.

Unfortunately, unlike the first series (which you can read my analysis and review of here), I felt that there were fewer scenes in this series which prompted a deep discussion about existentialism, artificial intelligence or humanity. That being said, the show did touch upon some interesting ideas.

Niska (played by Emily Berrington, centre), is by far one of the most interesting characters in the show and it was great to see her become one of the key characters in series two. Photo: Channel 4 Press.
Earlier on in the series, we saw a synth in the role of a marriage counsellor, aiming to heal the damage done to Joe and Laura’s relationship which we saw in series one. It poses an interesting question though: could artificial intelligence be the key to true impartiality in situations which demand it? After all, a human counsellor must remain impartial, so they have to conceal any opinions or views they have. Yet, when it comes to a robot, they cannot possess a concealed bias towards one party. It’s an unanswerable question, but is still an intriguing one to consider.

However, the most interesting plot point in this series was Niska’s consciousness tests. If the synth was found to be conscious, then she would stand trial as a human for the murder of a character she killed in the first series. Yet, when it came to the verdict on whether or not she was conscious, Niska stood up and dismissed the legal process as corrupt and working against her. Her lawyer, Laura, told her that this was her ‘chance’ to be given the same rights as a human, to which Niska replied that it wasn’t her chance, it was humanity’s chance.

What does this mean exactly? It means that the consciousness tests had a secret purpose to Niska. The ‘chance’ she was referring to was whether or not human beings would be willing to accept artificially intelligent robots as their equals. Unfortunately, for those conducting the tests, the possibility of something inhuman gaining the rights of a human threatened the hegemony humankind possesses, so they stopped it and hijacked the legal procedure. For us, any circumstance which requires us to explore the definition of humanity is an awkward one. Yet, for Channel 4’s Humans, the writers chose to bite the bullet and raise this question – with the help of some artificially intelligent robots, of course.

Katherine Parkinson plays Laura Hawkins, who is Niska’s defence lawyer during the tests to prove if the synth is conscious. Photo: Channel 4 Press.
Niska’s interest in whether synths could be treated the same as humans tapped into an even bigger idea. That is, whilst Homo sapiens are a species, humanity is a concept to which any conscious and intelligent entity can subscribe – and that also forms part of our fear of AI.

Once again, Humans explores deep existential questions whilst keeping the programme as entertaining and gripping as possible. The show really got interesting in the second half of the series, with Sophie’s personality disorder being a curious subplot. However, the suspense came with the death of Pete Strummond (played by Neil Maskell) – something I didn’t see coming. In the final episode, with Mia, Leo, Hester and Karen all facing the risk of dying, it all felt too much. Thankfully, the powering down of Hester and the possible death of Leo were the only two things which occurred. If any more main characters were killed, then the programme would really struggle should a third series be commissioned.

Then the series ended the way it should have begun, with all synths becoming conscious and roaming the streets. The writers’ decision to cause the program to only ‘wake up’ some robots at the start of series two was a disappointment. Thankfully, series three should finally explore a parallel present we have all thought about (and hopefully tell us, at last, what happened to Fred, one of the first conscious synths we last saw at the end of series one). Series one and two presented a world where subservient robots lived among us, but now that all these synths are conscious? We could see a clash between humans and robots, and the return of the ‘We Are People’ movement which we saw in the first series. Series three should be very interesting indeed.

A Fictional Reality: Thankful

Channel 4’s Humans left me with a sense of euphoria. Excitement combined with robotic thought processes forced me to sit down by my laptop and convert my opinions into computer code. Ideas were released without restraint and I ended up with three pages of commentary.

It was a chain reaction. A nuclear fission of engagement occurred on my computer screen. An idea on a blog was shared across social media. A thought-provoking programme led to new opinions on a blog post, and now these thoughts travelled all over the country into the minds of others. Then came a new wave of excitement in the form of success. People had enjoyed what I had written. My excitement and enthusiasm were contagious.

An opportunity presents itself. A chance for my work to be recognised at an awards ceremony and read by more people. I fill in the entry form, and click submit…

*

I shuffled uncomfortably at the back of an auditorium, a small programme resting on my lap but keen to fall to the floor at regular intervals. I am underdressed, sporting a smart-casual look when fellow students don suits and dresses. It’s clear that I’m not used to awards ceremonies just yet; it’s my first event in a while, and after browsing the other nominees, I was surprised to have even been on the shortlist.

Never compare yourself to others. It’s a mantra we hear all the time and are told to adopt, but it brewed and fizzled in my mind as I waited for the Blogger/Vlogger category to come next. My mind was an essay. One thousand words flooded the blog post on my website and filled my head as I waited, before it dwindled down to two.

Highly Commended.

*

Now, as the second series of Humans airs on Channel 4 tonight, I always look back on this post with fondness. I remember the Colin Morgan fan accounts who retweeted my post and left kind comments. I was fearful that the fact it spanned three pages and was around 1,000 pages in length had me worried that no one would read all of it. Yet, the post was Highly Commended at the Midlands Student Media Awards, it’s the tenth most popular post on my blog of all-time, and over 360 people have read some or all of the article.

It’s inspired me to not hold back on my enthusiasm and talking about big topics. I like to think it’s influenced my writing when it comes my Friday Articles too.

You can read the post in question here, and you can expect me to write a follow-up post or review once the series has finished.

I decided to try something different for this post and write a story from my life in a fictional narrative style. I’m not too sure if I’m a fan of this just yet, but if you liked it, let me know in the comments below.

Liam

The University Atmosphere: Encouraging Detailed Thinking


One of the many things I love about studying at university is how it encourages debate and discussion on important issues from those with expertise or a big interest in the topic itself.

Over the next few weeks, I will be attending a lot of guest lectures and debates at the University of Lincoln – including talks by professional journalists, YouTubers (in particular Thomas ‘TomSka’ Ridgewell) and discussions about digital rights and the criminal justice system.

I love analysing and thinking about current affairs and issues. As regular readers of this blog will know, I wrote a three-page essay all about the rise of artificial intelligence to coincide with the TV show Humans. I also recently wrote an article about surveillance to tie in with ‘the snooper’s charter’ and Hunted on Channel 4.

I love this style of writing and something I want to do more of on this blog.

I first set up The Life of a Thinker as a place to practice my journalism. It has since evolved into a lifestyle blog, but I hope to have more of a balance in the future.

Mondays will continue to be Musical Discovery posts, Fridays will always be journalistic articles and Sundays will either be writing or life updates. As for Wednesdays, they will probably be journalistic articles too to get a greater balance.

What do you think? Would you like to see more journalistic and analytical articles on the blog? Comment below and let me know!

Liam

Thoughts on Channel 4’s ‘Humans’ (SPOILERS)

At a time when our society is constantly expanding and changing, questions are being asked about the speed of our technological advances. In the latest Channel 4 drama Humans, which concluded last Sunday, the exploration of the ultimate technological breakthrough – artificial intelligence – is investigated in a way which addresses the advantages and disadvantages of introducing robotic appliances into our everyday lives.

Photo: © Kudos
Photo: © Kudos

For the first half of the series, through the troubled Hawkins family, we see different attitudes to Anita’s role in their family life. Sophie has a ‘human’ relationship with Anita, Joe sees the synthetics as nothing more than obedient robots (at least, at first) and Laura struggles to understand Anita, fearing that some of her familial roles have been made redundant thanks to the robot.

Then, throughout the series, the relationship between Joe and Laura crumbles as they realise that they both have different views on synthetic appliances. But in fact, synths are nothing more than obedient ‘voids’ which we all assign different meanings to. Whilst George has a friendly relationship with Odi, Pete’s suspicious of his wife’s robotic physiotherapist, Simon. Even in numerous interviews before the show’s launch, the actors explained that it is up to the viewers to determine how much of a threat artificial intelligence and robots are to humanity, and which ‘side’ people take.

But as well as the human characters assigning different opinions to the synths, they all react differently to the task of understanding how the synthetics work. For example, people like Mattie only understood the robots as lines of computer code at first, whilst Laura was desperate to find out more about Anita’s thought processes. As for the characters who initially fear the synths, one of the possible reasons for this is the fact that the robots allow the humans to understand themselves more. With the introduction of a ‘species’ which are outside the human race and treated as servants, they try to understand the complexity of human nature. At one point, Karen/Beatrice even explains that to give consciousness to other synthetics would lead to ‘suffering’. Although, whilst the synths learn more about humans, this often leads to a ‘mirror’ effect, as the humans begin to learn more about themselves. For some characters, the idea of robots defining something as extraordinary, complex and mysterious as human nature itself is terrifying. Whilst some of us would love to explore humanity, others would rather live their lives without contemplating deep topics such as the definition of human nature.

This brings me on to the introduction of the We Are People movement which we see towards the end of the series. Upon seeing and listening to their speeches as seen on the show, it’s clear that their fear of artificial intelligence comes down to three main reasons: being unable to understand robots (comprehension), losing our roles as humans (redundancy) and the idea that they will take over the world (uprising).