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Google News boosts AI to break down media ‘filter bubble’ that reinforces biases of app’s users

To give readers a full range of perspectives, the news app will include both personalised news and a top stories option, where articles will be selected according to how trusted their source is rather than the user’s preferences

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 May, 2018, 8:46pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 May, 2018, 8:46pm

Google is doubling down on the use of artificial intelligence (AI) for its updated news application as part of an effort to weed out disinformation and help users get viewpoints beyond their own “filter bubble”.

Google chief Sundar Pichai, who unveiled the updated Google News earlier this month, says the app now “surfaces the news you care about from trusted sources while still giving you a full range of perspectives on events”.

It marks Google’s latest effort to be at the centre of online news, and includes a new push to help publishers get paid subscribers through the tech giant’s platform.

According to product chief Trystan Upstill, the news app “uses the best of artificial intelligence to find the best of human intelligence – the great reporting done by journalists around the globe”.

While the app will enable users to get “personalised” news, it will also include top stories for all readers, aiming to break the so-called filter bubble of information designed to reinforce people’s biases.

“Having a productive conversation or debate requires everyone to have access to the same information,” Upstill says.

He says the “full coverage” feed would be the same for everyone: “an unpersonalised view of events from a range of trusted news sources”.

Some journalism industry veteransare sceptical about the effort to replace human editors with machine curators.

“There’s been a fantasy of [algorithmic] personalised news for a long time,” says New York University journalism professor Meredith Broussard. “Nobody has ever got it right. I think that news designers and homepage editors do a good job of curating already.”

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Google and Facebook have also been criticised for scooping up most online ad revenues and for enabling false information to spread.

In the new app, Google’s “Newsstand” addresses some concerns by allowing users to sign up for subscriptions using their Google accounts, and will enable publishers to connect with readers directly.

Nicholas Diakopoulos, a professor at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois specialising in computational and data journalism, says the impact of Google’s changes remain to be seen.

Diakopoulos says algorithmic and personalised news can be positive for “engagement” but may only benefit a handful of news organisations.

His research found that “Google concentrates its attention on a relatively small number of publishers”. “It’s quite concentrated,” he says.

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Google’s effort to identify and prioritise “trusted” news sources may also be problematic, according to Diakopoulos. “Maybe it’s good for the big guys, or the [publishers] who have figured out how to game the algorithm,” he says. “But what about the local news sites, what about the new news sites that don’t have a long track record?”

Diakopoulos says that while AI can offer some advantages in news curation, “you still need people involved in many different ways. You need to reflect human values, editorial values … you can’t quantify every aspect that might be important to an editorial decision.”