Former NBA player Brandon Hunter passed away unexpectedly at the young age of 42 this week, a tragedy that rattled fans of his 2000s career with the Boston Celtics and Orlando Magic.

But in an unhinged twist on what was otherwise a somber news story, Microsoft's MSN news portal published a garbled, seemingly AI-generated article that derided Hunter as "useless" in its headline.

"Brandon Hunter useless at 42," read the article, which was quickly called out on social media. The rest of the brief report is even more incomprehensible, informing readers that Hunter "handed away" after achieving "vital success as a ahead [sic] for the Bobcats" and "performed in 67 video games."

Condemnation for the disrespectful article was swift and forceful.

"AI should not be writing obituaries," posted one reader. "Pay your damn writers ⁦MSN."

"The most dystopian part of this is that AI which replaces us will be as obtuse and stupid as this translation," wrote a redditor, "but for the money men, it's enough."

It's not the first time Microsoft — a major backer of ChatGPT maker OpenAI — has embarrassed itself with AI-generated content on MSN. It made headlines last month, for instance, after publishing a similarly incoherent AI-generated travel guide for Ottawa, Canada that bizarrely recommended that tourists visit a local food bank. It deleted the bizarre article after criticism.

"The article was not published by an unsupervised AI," Jeff Jones, a senior director at Microsoft, claimed to The Verge at the time. "In this case, the content was generated through a combination of algorithmic techniques with human review, not a large language model or AI system."

The full story is that back in 2020, MSN fired the team of human journalists responsible for vetting content published on its platform. As a result, as we reported last year, the platform ended up syndicating large numbers of sloppy articles about topics as dubious Bigfoot and mermaids, which it deleted after we pointed them out.

You might expect that these repeated self-inflicted embarrassments would lead MSN to increase its scrutiny of content shared with its vast audience.

"We are working to ensure this type of content isn’t posted in future," Jones told The Verge last month.

They don't seem to be succeeding, though. MSN promises on its "About Us" page that it ensures the "content we show aligns with our values" through "human oversight." But looking at some of the material being published on its site, that claim strains credibility.

Take the original publisher of the piece on Hunter's death, a publication going by the name of Race Track. Red flags abound, starting with the fact that its articles are bylined simply by an anonymous "Editor." The publication claims to distill the "essence of sports excellence" by being "your premier destination for all major sports news" — and though it links to a Portuguese-language automotive magazine called Autogear in its MSN profile, that site's "About Us" page is entirely filled with Lorem ipsum text, placeholder verbiage commonly used by web designers.

Over the last 12 hours, the website has seemingly been taken down and presents visitors with a login page.

And despite having almost 100,000 followers on Facebook, the site's content gets almost zero engagement there.

Most obviously, a quick perusal of Race Track's profile shows that it has been using MSN to publish an uninterrupted stream of incoherent gobbledygook. One particularly ridiculous article profiles a "Corridor of Fame" football player called "Pleasure Taylor," which appears to be a mangled reference to NFL Hall of Famer Joy Taylor.

Another unintelligible recent piece slapped together by Race Track and republished by MSN bungled the story of Kevin Porter Jr's arrest for domestic violence, misstating facts as basic as the name of NYU Langone Medical Center, which it referred to as "Langone Medical Heart."

Upon closer examination, the articles aren't just of abysmally low quality. As it turns out, they're also plagiarized.

Take the article about Hunter's death, which follows the same structure as a TMZ Sports story about his death, albeit with altered punctuation and a use of synonyms so liberal that the result is essentially incomprehensible.

Here's the first line of TMZ's write-up:

On review, the version published by MSN is obviously a chopped up remix:

Hunter, initially a extremely regarded highschool basketball participant in Cincinnati, achieved vital success as a ahead for the Bobcats.

He earned three first-team All-MAC convention alternatives and led the NCAA in rebounding throughout his senior season. Hunter’s expertise led to his choice because the 56th general decide within the 2003 NBA Draft.

Everywhere we looked, other Race Track articles on MSN are clearly ripped off from other publishers. The "Pleasure Taylor" item is evidently a mangled version of a blog by The Cold Wire. A story about potholes in the United Kingdom is a butchered version of a piece in Autocar. And a post about tennis star Novak Djokovic is lifted from Tennis World.

After this story ran, MSN deleted the articles in question. Initially it continued publishing new articles by Race Track, but later all posts on the publication's MSN page disappeared as well.

Needless to say, none of this bodes well for the information ecosystem. With publications eagerly looking to replace human editors and writers, AI has unleashed a barrage of dubiously sourced content — sometimes by mainstream news sites ranging from CNET to The AV Club — that threatens to further erode public trust in the media.

Accusing an NBA legend of being "useless" the week he died isn't just an offensive slip-up by a seemingly unsupervised algorithm, in other words. It's also a threat looming over the future of journalism.

Updated with comment from Microsoft.

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