I read an article a few weeks ago about how Microsoft is cutting dozens of news workers and replacing them with artificial intelligence (article). Microsoft reported that the work of the reporters has been semi-automated for months.

This is nothing new. Many news outlets have been relying on AI to generate their content. The process generally involves an algorithm going through lots of data (likely other news stories) and laying the information out in article form. The AI tends to write in a very formulaic structure and style, mostly providing the readers with names, dates, times, etc. (Wikipedia).

It’s not clear immediately whether this is a good trend or not. Some argue that AI frees journalists from having to write mundane articles about basic current events, but some journalists find it demoralizing that they can be replaced by a robot.

According to an article by Wharton, many large news outlets are using AI in some form, including The Washington Post, The Associated Press, BBC, Reuters, Bloomberg, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal (article). In 2018, China’s Xinhua News Agency went so far as to use artificial intelligence to power its news anchor. The anchor was created using computer graphics and fed information via algorithm. I can’t confirm that the anchor is still working, but they also debuted a female version in 2019. There are videos on YouTube here and here.

I think the loss of jobs in this sector is a natural progression in the transfer of basic knowledge work from people to machines. The AI can write faster, cover more topics, and contribute more efficiently to our 24-hour news bombardment.

Bombardment? That might have sounded harsh, but it’s true that our news outlets have been generating far more news over the recent years. We have access to news constantly, via television news networks, websites, and through places like Twitter. How can we possibly keep up with the demands for news? It shouldn’t surprise anyone that we would need to turn to some form of automation to satisfy our needs.

The big question that we should be asking is: who’s next? Knowledge workers are potentially under fire from automated sources. I have been saying for years that people responsible for transactional knowledge work are the next logical targets.

Accountants, for example, could be replaced by AI. Many currently use options like TurboTax to satisfy their basic tax needs, when will that expand to include more complicated matters, like audits? Financial planners are also potential targets. The average family doesn’t need complicated financial advice. Make a budget, start saving, get life insurance, these are basic bits of advice that can easily be replaced by a robot. Will people feel comfortable dealing with a machine? Maybe not, but how long until we create a machine that can pass as human? Probably not long, especially since lots of this work can be done over the phone.

I’m beginning to rant a bit here, but the point is that these types of changes are not merely coming, they are here. We need to start thinking about what other jobs will be replaced and what hurdles will need to be crossed for the replacement to happen.

For example, for AI to write news it needs to understand how humans read and it needs to understand what words we expect to see. It’s not editorializing yet; it doesn’t need a lot of empathy. It just needs to find the facts and lay them out in a way that we expect.

But to replace an accountant or a financial adviser (or a lawyer), AI will need to make people feel comfortable talking about money (and ultimately fears and aspirations around money) with a computer. To do that, AI will need to be more empathetic and learn how to interact with people on a more human level.

Who knows how long it will take to get to that point?