"Hmm, it seems like you might be feeling a bit down. How about I recommend a meal that will lift your spirits?"
Fresh on the heels of announcing that he would be using AI to replace static content — and thus, re-engineer BuzzFeed-owned sites into a new kind of automated content farm — BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti has given The New York Times a glimpse into what that process might look like.
Behold: Botatouille, a recipe-suggesting chatbot that will soon be integrated into the BuzzFeed-owned food site Tasty.
"Rainy day? Botatouille recommends winter chili or lentil soup," writes the NYT's Benjamin Mullins. "Feeling lonely? Botatouille suggests chocolate chip cookies or a vegetable curry. Botatouille might also recommend shepherd's pie, which it quipped was its mother's recipe."
We know, we know. Groundbreaking stuff. We'll give you a second to pick your jaw up off the floor.
But for all its recipe-generating prowess — it apparently excelled at offering a coherent party punch — Botatouille reportedly struggled with one specific recipe ask: a good meal suggestion for a laid-off media worker. That's a relevant question for the bot, considering that BuzzFeed just sacked its entire BuzzFeed News team in favor of an AI-heavy future for the digital media empire.
"Hmm, it seems like you might be feeling a bit down. How about I recommend a meal that will lift your spirits?" Botatouille reportedly told Mullins, after first hitting the journalist with an "oops, something went wrong" error message. "For a laid-off digital media worker, I suggest trying the one-pan chicken and veggie meal prep 2 ways."
You heard the bot. If your CEO, like a growing number of others, has prioritized AI tech over human creativity and salaries, some chicken and veggie meal prep oughta do the trick.
Armed with Botatouille, Peretti unsurprisingly took his chat with the NYT as an opportunity to defend his fixation on AI not as the prioritization of cost-cutting machines over humans labor, but rather as a simple means of staying on top of the latest technology fads.
"Shifting from a sort of crumbling wave of social to a growing wave of generative AI, to me, is an exciting transition," Peretti told the NYT. "And I think there's things we could definitely learn to make sure we capture more enduring value from a technological trend."
Peretti also assured the NYT he's definitely not an evil CEO attempting to replace all journalists with AI, thanks for asking!
"Even if you were, like, an evil CEO trying to replace all journalists with AI, you would be very unsuccessful," said the CEO. "It wouldn't work on the business side."
In other words, from a business perspective, you can't replace all media workers with robots. But you can, apparently, replace some of them, whose contributions to both value and traffic can be replaced by a recipe bot that will let you in on its mom's favorite recipe. (That line is particularly infuriating when you consider that Botatouille may have churned out a spin on someone else's recipe, be it from their mother's kitchen or hours spent recipe testing.)
This whole thing is LinkedIn AI Guy depressing, although considering some of Peretti's other recent comments, it's also not terribly surprising. At the company's recent Investor Day, where he announced that BuzzFeed would move to kill a massive chunk of static content, he also emphasized that moving forward, BuzzFeed would prioritize "fun" and "entertainment" — which, sandwiched between words like "interactive" and "gamified," seem to translate to "distraction" — over all else. Botatouille is likely just the tip of that iceberg, though whether it'll actually make a monetization splash remains to be seen.
"The biggest platforms will increasingly be defined by how much fun they provide users," Peretti told BuzzFeed investors. "As a result, the only profitable sustainable businesses that can be built on top of the big platforms will be focused on entertainment."
"This is why we shifted the BuzzFeed brand away from news," he added, "to focus on making the Internet more fun."
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