AI Could Destroy Journalism as We Know It. Media Mogul Barry Diller Hopes to Save It

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Media mogul Barry Diller warned on Wednesday that artificial intelligence (AI) could be as “destructive” to news publishers as free online news was in the early aughts.

Speaking at the Sir Harry Evans Global Summit in Investigative Journalism, Diller, who co-founded Fox Broadcasting Company and is now chairman of publishing giant IAC, said he was teaming up with News Corp. CEO Robert Thomson and German publisher Axel Springer to protect news publishers from the threat of AI.

Speaking in conversation with journalist and conference organizer Tina Brown, Diller said it was a “terrible mistake” for publishers, through inaction, to allow AI tools like ChatGPT to “suck up every known piece of work that has ever been done”. Large language models like ChatGPT are trained on massive amounts of content scraped from across the internet.

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The billionaire, who is also chairman of Expedia, compared the potential impact of AI on media companies to the early days of online news before paywalls were introduced. “You saw over the last, certainly 15 of those years the enormous destruction,” he said.

AI tools that are trained on published content from news outlets pose a threat to media businesses by allowing users to access information that came from news archives without paying the companies that produced it. This effectively allows users to bypass the paywalls of vast numbers of publications.

“Unless publishers say, ‘you cannot do that until there is a structure in place for publishers to get paid,’ you will see another wave [that is] even more destructive,” he added.

Discussing whether rules around “fair use” in copyright law could be used as a defense for AI companies that scrape huge amounts of content from publishers, Diller said: “What must happen is fair use has to be redefined. You can’t have fair use when there is an unfair machine that knows no bounds.”

He went on to share that IAC, which publishes People among other titles, News Corp., and Axel Springer are leading a group to seek to change copyright law “if necessary” and to threaten litigation against publishers who take their content without permission. “What you publish, you have a right to control,” he said.

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The companies have been increasingly vocal on AI since the public launch of ChatGPT in November. In March, News Corp.’s Thomson said that he was in talks with an unnamed AI company to seek compensation for its content being used as training material, according to Australian Financial Review. It’s not the first time the company has gone after big tech companies to protect its business. In 2021, News Corp. struck agreements with Google and Facebook to charge the tech giants for its content.

In a March letter to employees, Politico and De Bild owner Axel Springer’s CEO Mathias Doepfner warned that journalists could be replaced by AI, the Guardian reported. “Artificial intelligence has the potential to make independent journalism better than it ever was—or simply replace it,” he wrote.

Despite expressing his concern about AI companies, Diller said that Sam Altman, the CEO of OpenAI—the company behind ChatGPT—”understands the dangers” of AI. Altman, who is an Expedia board member and a friend of Diller’s, is willing to “pull the plug” if the tech gets into dangerous territory, Diller said. “You couldn’t make up a better steward,” he added. “It won’t go bad under Sam Altman. Unfortunately—or fortunately—he is hardly the only player.”

Diller’s warning came hours before Google announced the launch of its answer to ChatGPT, PaLM 2. The large language model can be used to power chatbots similar to ChatGPT, as well as write computer code, translate languages, and analyze images.

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