G/O Media-owned sports news site Deadspin's AI is back up and running.
The AI, dubbed "Deadspin Bot," was first introduced back in June, and was one of several similar bots launched by the publisher across a handful of its sites: Gizmodo, The A.V. Club, The Takeout, and — of course — Deadspin.
Though G/O Media defended the bots as a necessary experiment amid uncertain times for the media industry, the rollout was an absolute mess. G/O employees at the impacted sites were given little to no warning before the AI-generated content was published, and the material itself was nothing short of embarrassing. The AI-spun articles, which mainly consisted of bland listicles, were error-laden and soulless, lacking in sources for confidently-stated figures, and failing to meet basic journalistic standards that the humans at G/O's award-winning sites would surely have adhered to.
Deadspin Bot's content was no exception. Its first July article, dubbed "The 15 Most Valuable Professional Sports Franchises" was not only mind-numbingly dull and repetitive but chock-full of outdated, estimated data, and void of any citations to boot. In the months since, the AI has mostly been quiet; it published a few articles aimed at helping Fantasy Football heads draft their make-believe sports teams in late August, but was seemingly mum otherwise.
Until now. Deadspin Bot is back in season, and it's already cranked out over 30 new articles since restarting production sometime last month.
To call these posts "articles," though, is arguably misleading. They're really just SEO-baited lists of various professional football and baseball player stats, packaged under a barely-there headline — "2023 MLB saves leaders," "2023 NFL passing yards leaders," "2023 MLB NL wins leaders," and so on — that appear to be periodically updated. Upon clicking each article, you'll find a list of the top 20 players competing for the given statistic, complete with a disclaimer: "This article is based on data from Sportradar. Text was compiled by an AI engine that was then reviewed and edited by the editorial staff."
Forgive us, however, if we have trust issues regarding that caveat. G/O has repeatedly promised that its AI-generated content is human-reviewed, and though that may be true, the publisher's initial, error-ridden foray into AI-generated material makes us skeptical.
Cases in point: in September, we found that a movie listicle published by the A.V. Club's AI was essentially pressing copy-paste on IMDb film descriptions, which doesn't exactly scream "top-notch editing." Meanwhile, a glance at Gizmodo's AI-translated, Spanish-language blogs — an effort kickstarted by G/O after the publisher decided to fire its Spanish-speaking team in favor of an AI tool — found they were loaded with bizarre formatting errors that any human journalist would have corrected. It's sloppy, and the work of G/O's AI systems should be held to the same standards as the rest of the human-penned and edited journalism found across the publisher's many excellent sites.
Like with the copy-pasted A.V. Club AI articles, there's also the question of whether copied lists of stats from someone else's database really count as the work of an "AI engine" in the era of generative AI. At the end of the day, is Deadspin Bot doing anything that couldn't be accomplished with a simple script for decades?
To that end, it's worth noting that a number of Deadspin's human staffers have openly expressed their AI concerns. In May, prior to Deadspin Bot's disastrous first blog, Deadspin's Stephen Knox wrote that "writers are legitimately concerned — including the one who put this piece together — that executives will look to replace us with a processed substitute" in an essay about the then-burgeoning writer's strike. Then, weeks later, just days after Deadspin Bot's first listicle was posted, another Deadspin writer, Sam Fels, penned a scathing blog parodying the shortcomings of AI's forays into journalism.
"It really is a shame for a great baseball town like St. Petersburg, as the ever loyal, and beloved Cardinals fans were really counting on a winning season this yarn," reads the nonsensical text — the Cardinals are located in St. Louis, not St. Peterburg, and the word "yarn" should read "year" — which we would highly recommend you read in full. "It will be a sad site to watch them drown their sparrows in really good beer," Fels added, "and things that are definitely pizza for the rest of their more than temperate sumner."
Also, in case they make it impossible to find again, I'll leave you the screenshots: pic.twitter.com/9aTGn2NvFO
— Sam Fels, But Who's Buyin'? (@FelsGate) July 6, 2023
We reached out to G/O to ask about Deadspin Bot's resurrection, but we've yet to receive any response.
It's unclear whether the publisher plans to use its sports site's AI for anything other than statistics dumps. Regardless, the deeper message feels clear. In spite of its many missteps — and the toll that its AI efforts have already taken on its human staff — the media company is committed to an AI-dependent vision. Presumably, we'll see more AI-generated G/O content to come.
More on G/O Media: The A.V. Club's AI-Generated Articles Are Copying Directly From IMDb
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