By Michael Miller, Executive Chairman, News Corp Australia.

We are again witnessing a dramatic shift in the digital world – and original journalism and content creators need to avoid past mistakes that decimated their industries and enabled tech companies to profit from but refuse to pay for the true value of their creativity.

Some observers will portray the rapid rise of generative Artificial Intelligence (AI) as a game-changer for internet search. However, it also represents, worryingly, another move by powerful digital companies to develop a new pot of gold to maximise revenues and profit by taking the creative content of others without remunerating them for their original work.

Yes, there is some cautious excitement – but also real concerns – about the emergence of the latest chatbots.  These new AI technologies are creating further challenges for governments and regulators, who have struggled to keep pace with evolving technology – change that today is lightning-fast. By way of example, Netflix took three-and-a-half years to achieve a million users, Spotify five months, Instagram two-and-a-half months, yet ChatGPT took just five days.

Chatbots ingest vast amounts of news and information, data and vocabulary to produce human-like responses to queries and can develop computer code at speed.

Up to now, generative AI, such as ChatGPT, developed by US company OpenAI, has purported to provide descriptive, contextual answers based on historical information with limited knowledge of the world and events after 2021. As the technology develops and competitors emerge, these AI technologies will seek to improve the answers they provide also based on information happening in real-time.

Generative AI, however, will not replace the skills of journalists – to enquire, investigate and develop fresh ideas and thinking; explain how issues and events might influence the future; nor provide an understanding of the emotions, reactions and experiences that mould the decisions in people’s lives or shape the liveability and lovability of communities.

With appropriate guardrails, AI has the potential to become a valuable journalistic resource.  It can assist journalists and news media companies to create content and gather facts faster; be more efficient in publishing stories for multiple platforms from print to desktop to mobile to social channels; and accelerate production of video (and this is already happening on TikTok).

In Australia’s many multicultural communities from non-English speaking backgrounds, media brands could reach new audiences by using AI to publish in multiple languages.

Similarly, the technology can enable personalisation whereby products are better tailored for individual needs: consumers can select what content they want to receive, when and how.

However, AI opens up a new digital front, and content creators must learn from their past complacency. OpenAI has, for example, quickly established a business worth US$ 30 billion by using others’ original content and creativity without remuneration and attribution.

As News Corp Chief Executive Robert Thomson has defined, there are three aspects to this: (1) training – the AI engines are using professionally crafted journalism content to train themselves to deliver more credible responses; (2) the surfacing and reuse of third party journalism through AI without compensation; and (3) synthesising of aggregated content where they extract the essence of original content for their service.

Without the capacity to access journalism to perform these three tasks, the valuable service offered by generative AI would not be possible. It cannot become, in Robert Thomson’s words, “degenerative AI”. The painful lessons of two decades of digital disruption also mean media companies today will not sit idly by, tolerating the looting of their content. Those days are well gone.

Yes, the rise of these new AI chatbots harks back to when tech giants such as Google and Meta built massive wealth and scale using others’ creativity and original content and monetising it without appropriate compensation to those creators or copyright holders.

Befittingly, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s digital platforms inquiry and introduction of the Federal Government’s News Media Bargaining Code, has recently led to collaborative partnerships with the tech giants that recognises the value of journalism.

Similarly, creators deserve to be rewarded for their original work being used by AI engines which are raiding the style and tone of not only journalists but (to name a few) musicians, authors, poets, historians, painters, filmmakers and photographers. It is feasting on their creativity.

Put simply, AI engines face a fundamental risk to their future success: convincing the public their information is trustworthy and credible and to achieve this, they will have to fairly compensate those who provide the substance for their success.

We are living now in a spam and scam culture. Not a day goes by when Australians are not subject to scamming at an alarming rate via email, SMS, mobile calls or social media. We are also seeing information presented on digital platforms as credible when, in fact, it is fake, twisted or sinister. With the new chatbots, this reality highlights their credibility challenge.

In this era of uncertainty, consumers are returning to brands, journalism and information sources they trust. This is a major reason why great professional journalism and media brands are attracting record audiences.

As a society, we are only now starting to debate AI’s social, legal and political ramifications. We do this because we have witnessed the damage to businesses and communities caused by the unfettered market power of tech giants.

This time, things must be different. At the birth of the internet, tech startups were effectively given a leave pass from regulation to innovate genuinely. Now, as the wealthiest corporations the world has ever seen, there can be no rationale to excuse them from the price of paying for the raw materials they use in their manufacturing process.

This can be a genuine opportunity for AI companies, not a threat or handbrake. Partnerships through licensing and commercial arrangements with trusted media brands will deliver what they so desperately need for growth and success: credibility.

This article was first published by The Australian and is republished with kind permission. 

Michael Miller will speak at the World News Media Congress in Taipei on June 28-30, 2023.

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