At its core, artificial intelligence (AI) is all about collecting and analyzing data, similar to what we like to think of as the function of our human intelligence. AI has been dismissed as the content of science fiction for a long time, but lately it has been seeping deeper into our lives—and deeper into the world of publishing.
Traditional analytic tools strive to provide perspective on yesterday’s performance and put the onus on the human minds to figure out what to do with that information; however, AI—in its ability to “learn” and “react”—pushes the perspective of analytical tools that had been focused on analyzing the past towards analyzing the present and the future in real time. It’s already fairly well known that AI plays a large role in advertising and how content is prioritized, pushing only relevant ads and content to a user onto their screen, and recording data on what aspects of those ads or content make a consumer click. AI as a field is constantly expanding, however, and some companies are beginning to contend with a new reliance on the technology.
One example of a publishing niche already fleshing out its relationship with AI is the field of scientific publications. AI is being used to comb through some of the thousands of papers submitted for publication all the time, for things from fact-checking to plagiarism to deciding which human eyes should review the paper next. An article on Wired suggests that the field’s flirtations with the technology is risky and is no replacement for peer review, while Public Radio International’s interview with Adam Marcus, co-founder of the blog Retraction Watch, suggested a more measured approach. Marcus suggested that AI would have to work in tandem with human reviewers and overseers, but that AI would be enormously helpful in finding things such as plagiarism and false statistics (as long as there were humans to weed out false-positives and the like).
Niemanlab, a website from Harvard’s Nieman Foundation for Journalism, had these predictions for AI in 2017 (written by Matt Karolian, the director of audience engagement at The Boston Globe): “In newsrooms, bots will start to produce more stories where structured data is readily available—think game recaps, weather run downs, and overviews of how the stock market performed. […] Bots will replace publishers’ iOS and Android apps. […] Publishers would be smart to migrate resources away from maintaining unused apps and redirect them towards the development of bots that push the most relevant news directly to the screens that readers most frequently look at.” Finally, the article went on to urge the embrace of this AI, saying, “AI will help us become better storytellers while simultaneously ensuring our audiences are the right ones.”
The idea of technology taking an ever-growing role in our lives and industries can be unsettling, especially when it may be taking on entirely new roles or speaking to us directly; however, the scope of AI in publishing is focused on reducing rote or repetitive work, such as aggregation, data publication, and marketing analytics. Artificial intelligence is a tool, and when carefully wielded with the strength of human intelligence, it continues to propel us into a future that streamlines and focuses the content that we create.