Microsoft AI inserted a distasteful poll into a news report about a woman’s death

Microsoft AI inserted a distasteful poll into a news report about a woman’s death
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More than three years after Microsoft gutted its news divisions and replaced their work with AI and algorithmic automation, the content generated by its systems continues to contain grave errors that human involvement could, or should, have stopped. Today, The Guardian accused the company of damaging its reputation with a poll labeled “Insights from AI” that appeared in Microsoft Start next to a Guardian story about a woman’s death, asking readers to vote on how she died.

The Guardian wrote that though the poll was removed, the damage had already been done. The poll asked readers to vote on whether a woman took her own life, was murdered, or died by accident. Five-day-old comments on the story indicate readers were upset, and some clearly believe the story’s authors were responsible.

We asked Microsoft via email whether the poll was AI-generated and how it was missed by its moderation, and Microsoft general manager Kit Thambiratnam replied:

We have deactivated Microsoft-generated polls for all news articles and we are investigating the cause of the inappropriate content. A poll should not have appeared alongside an article of this nature, and we are taking steps to help prevent this kind of error from reoccurring in the future.

The Verge obtained a screenshot of the poll from The Guardian.

a:hover]:text-gray-63 [&>a:hover]:shadow-underline-black dark:[&>a:hover]:text-gray-bd dark:[&>a:hover]:shadow-underline-gray [&>a]:shadow-underline-gray-63 dark:[&>a]:text-gray-bd dark:[&>a]:shadow-underline-gray”>Screenshot: The Guardian

In August, a seemingly AI-generated Microsoft Start travel guide recommended visiting the Ottawa Food Bank in Ottawa, Canada, “on an empty stomach.” Microsoft senior director Jeff Jones claimed the story wasn’t made with generative AI but “through a combination of algorithmic techniques with human review.”

The Guardian says that Anna Bateson, Guardian Media Group’s chief executive, wrote in a letter to Microsoft president Brad Smith that the “clearly inappropriate” AI-generated poll had caused “significant reputational damage” to both the outlet and its journalists. She added that it outlined “the important role that a strong copyright framework plays” in giving journalists the ability to determine how their work is presented. She asked that Microsoft make assurances that it will seek the outlet’s approval before using “experimental AI technology on or alongside” its journalism and that Microsoft will always make it clear when it’s used AI to do so.

Update October 31st, 2023, 12:40PM ET: Embedded The Guardian’s letter to Microsoft.

Update October 31st, 2023, 6:35PM ET: Added a statement from Microsoft.

Correction October 31st, 2023, 6:35PM ET: A previous version of this article stated that the poll was tagged as “Insights by AI.” In fact, the tag read, “Insights from AI.” We regret the error.


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