Robots and humans: A new era in journalism?
#Web3Weekly: Jan. 1–7, 2023
This post is adapted from the latest edition of my newsletter #Web3Weekly. If you would like to receive it in your inbox every Sunday, subscribe here.
I’m breaking in two new members of the newsletter’s editorial team this week. They’re both artificially intelligent bots.
To be more specific, they are early-stage products from the startup OpenAI. The company recently did initial public releases of an image generator, cheekily dubbed DALL-E, and a bot called ChatGPT that gives text-based responses to user queries.
I’ve been hearing a lot about these AIs lately, especially ChatGPT, so I decided to sign up and try integrating them into my workflow for the newsletter this week. I essentially used them as an illustrator and editorial assistant for this edition, and will continue to do so for the time being.
To summarize, I would say my results were mixed with this initial attempt. ChatGPT and DALL-E both clearly have limitations right now, but also a lot of promise as they inevitably evolve.
To put it in familiar sci-fi terms, these products right now are nowhere close to being terminators (which we of course wouldn’t want anyway) or even Data from Star Trek, friendly and fully autonomous. They’re more like R2-D2, handy assistants who can do some specific tasks pretty well if you direct them properly.
I’d say the nightmare scenario that journalist and Harvard media researcher Heidi Legg laid out on Twitter recently — essentially, a dystopia in which the machines tell us what to think about the news — isn’t exactly nigh upon us. But it is definitely a longer-term concern worth discussing.
Tasks I used the bots for in this edition of the newsletter:
- Drafting. ChatGPT wrote early drafts of some of the bulleted news items further down in the newsletter. But I had to find the stories myself and feed the full text of the stories to ChatGPT to summarize, as ChatGPT can’t access the web itself right now. (It only has a fixed dataset it’s been trained on. This is a pretty big limitation indeed.) Then I had to edit and fact check the drafts ChatGPT spit out, much like I might do with a rookie reporter. In fairness, though, ChatGPT wrote much faster than any human, spitting out drafts in less than a minute each for me to review.
- Headline writing. Once I drafted the body copy of this edition of the newsletter in full, I fed it into ChatGPT and had it draft several possible headlines. Then my wife and I picked what we thought was the best one. (To be clear, my wife has a Ph.D in creative writing and has always been an uncredited copyeditor on this newsletter, thus an unsung hero to all readers. Thanks, babe!) You can see the ChatGPT-generated headline we chose, unedited, at the top of this post or in the email subject line, if you’re an email subscriber.
- Illustration. This took a lot of massaging and iteration with DALL-E, probably as much because of my own limitations as those of the AI. (More on this in a moment.) But I did eventually get it to produce an illustration I really liked by requesting an image of “different kinds of robot journalists in a newsroom in the style of Rembrandt.” From there, DALL-E produced a nifty square-shaped image that I iterated upon using DALL-E’s editing features and some additional queries to the AI.
- Tech support. When I was initially struggling with DALL-E, I of course turned to… wait for it… ChatGPT for some advice about its cousin. Frankly, the information it gave me wasn’t at all useful and I instead fared much better by doing an old-school web search for articles by human users of DALL-E. It was their posts, written based upon old-fashioned trial and error, that really helped me generate the final illustration you see with this edition of the newsletter.
OK. On to the week’s other major headlines about decentralization:
- FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried pleaded not guilty to criminal charges that he cheated investors and caused billions of dollars in losses. He faces eight criminal counts, including wire fraud and money laundering conspiracy. He could face up to 115 years in prison if convicted in a trial set for Oct. 2. U.S. prosecutors have posted a webpage asking FTX customers or other creditors to contact them as potential witnesses if they believe they were defrauded.
- In its civil bankruptcy proceedings, FTX announced a new agreement between its corporate entities in the U.S. and Bahamas to cooperate in resolving creditors’ claims in both jurisdictions. Meanwhile, Bankman-Fried is fighting to retain personal control of $450 million in Robinhood shares. And FTX’s trading arm, Alameda Research, joined U.S. regulators in objecting to Binance.US’s proposed purchase of bankrupt crypto lender Voyager Digital for $1 billion.
- Decrypt published a handy explainer about proof of reserves on crypto exchanges and why they matter.
- Celsius Network won ownership of more than $4.2 billion worth of customer funds after a prolonged legal battle. A U.S. judge ruled that the funds, deposited into interest-bearing accounts with Celsius, are the property of the bankrupt crypto lending firm and can be used as it sees fit. Separately, New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit against former Celsius CEO Alex Mashinsky alleging that he defrauded investors of billions of dollars worth of cryptocurrency.
- The Block reports that bitcoin futures trading activity “fell off cliff” in December. Monthly volume fell 36% to its lowest level since October 2020 on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.
- SuperRare, a trading platform for non-fungible tokens (NFTs), announced it will cut staff by 30%. CEO John Crain said the company had been overly aggressive in its previous hiring and that he takes “full ownership of this mistake.”
- No one is going to steal your startup idea. Netflix co-founder Marc Randolph took to Twitter to dispel this common — and highly overblown — fear among founders. The much bigger pitfall is not getting started at all, he says.
That’s it for now. Thanks for spending some time with the newsletter today! If you would like to receive updates like this in your inbox every Sunday, please join our email list here.
As ever, a brief disclaimer: This content is intended for journalistic purposes only, not as investment advice. For the latter, please DYOR and consult appropriate financial pros to make the most suitable choices for your individual needs.
Best wishes for a healthy and productive week ahead.