Guidelines for journalists and editors about reporting on robots, AI, and computers

Ben Shneiderman
6 min readJun 19, 2022
AI, Robots, Computers, and names of popular media outlets

I’m eager to promote accurate reporting about advanced technologies, especially those involving robots, AI, and computers. Most journalists and editors provide accurate and valuable reports on advanced technologies, however, misleading representations have long been a problem. In the 1940s, as modern electronic digital computers emerged, the descriptions included “awesome thinking machines” and “electronic brains.” Prof. Dianne Martin’s extensive review of survey data (CACM, 1993) summarizes her concern:

The attitude research conducted over the past 25 years suggests that the “awesome thinking machine” myth may have in fact retarded public acceptance of computers in the work environment, at the same time that it raised unrealistic expectations for easy solutions to difficult social problems.

The promotion of thinking machines continued with Newsweek’s June 30, 1980 cover “Machines that Think” and then TIME magazine’s December 1982 cover with the personal computer replacing the man of the year as “Machine of the Year”. TIME continued with the March 25, 1996 cover “Can Machines Think?”

My concern is that media headlines, articles, and photos suggest that computers, especially robots and AI:

- are thinking and becoming human-like, rather than celebrating distinctive human capacity for imagination, innovation, and creativity.

- took actions on their own initiative, rather than clarifying that humans used a computer,

- were responsible for what was accomplished, rather than giving credit to the humans who developed the computers, or

- were exceeding human abilities, rather than writing that computers were executing a program to accomplish a specific task.

Further below are some of the recent headlines that raised my concerns. The draft guidelines presented here are meant for discussion.

Guidelines for journalists and editors about reporting on robots, AI, and computers

1) Clarify human initiative and control: Instead of suggesting that computers take actions on their own initiative, clarify that humans…

Ben Shneiderman

BEN SHNEIDERMAN ( is an Emeritus Distinguished Univof Maryland Professor in Computer Science, Member National Academy of Engineering