The Reuters Institute In Oxford has just published a really valuable study of how AI is covered in mainstream media, based on an analysis of eight months of reporting on AI in six mainstream UK news outlets.
The study’s basic conclusion is that UK media coverage of artificial intelligence is dominated by industry products, announcements and research. Coverage frequently amplifies self-interested assertions of AI’s value and potential, while positioning the technology primarily as a private commercial concern and undercutting the role of public action in addressing AI.
Nearly 60% of articles were focused on new industry products, announcements and initiatives that include AI, from smart phones or running shoes, to sex robots or brain preservation. Outlets also regularly covered industry promotional events, start-ups, buyouts, investments, and conferences.
One third (33%) of articles were based on industry sources – mostly CEOs or other senior executives – six times as many as those from government and nearly twice as many as those from academia.
12% of articles referenced the technology entrepreneur, Elon Musk.
AI products are often portrayed as a relevant and competent solution to a range of public problems, from cancer and renewable energy, to coffee delivery. Journalists or commentators rarely question whether AI-containing technologies are the best solutions to such problems or acknowledge ongoing debates concerning AI’s potential effects.
Media coverage of AI is being politicised: right-leaning news outlets highlight issues of economics and geopolitics; left-leaning news outlets highlight issues of ethics, including discrimination, algorithmic bias and privacy.
The report’s lead author, J. Scott Brennen, observed that
“by amplifying industry’s self-interested claims about AI, media coverage presents AI as a solution to a range of problems that will disrupt nearly all areas of our lives, often without acknowledging ongoing debates concerning AI’s potential effects. In this way, coverage also positions AI mostly as a private commercial concern and undercuts the role and potential of public action in addressing this emerging public issue.”
That sounds just about right to me. This is a terrific piece of work.