AI's Threat to the Future of Publishing Is No Joke

April 2, 2023, 6:49 PM · Let's face it - a lot of April Fool's jokes online are just trash.

On April 1 each year, social media managers across the Internet make up fake stories about some wild new imaginary product with the hope that followers will click and share the post. If some fans fall for the ruse and get outraged by the "new" product, all the better. That reaction ultimately means more comments, more clicks, and more attention for the company.

As someone who got into online publishing via the newspaper industry, I never have wanted to make up stories. That's why Theme Park Insider hasn't participated in April Fool's Day in the past, save for reporting theme parks' notable attempts at jokes. But this year, I decided to take advantage of this one-day suspension of social norms about being truthful to try something different on the site.

No, I did not make up a fake story about some imaginary new attraction. Instead, I turned over the site's front page to an AI chat bot.

If the initials of "April Insider" did not clue you in, that was the name I assigned to the "writer" whose words came from my entering multiple prompts to the Chat GPT bot. By the way, her profile picture was another creation from the Open AI project, which runs Chat GPT.

Why do this?

Because this is the future of publishing - including news and entertainment - unless the public stops ceding so much control to computers over what they read and watch.

Computer algorithms determine which webpages you see in your Google News updates or Web searches. Algorithms determine what content you see in your Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and (for most users) Twitter feeds. With the collapse of the subscription newspaper and magazine industries, algorithms now control the vast majority of the news and information content that people consume on a daily basis.

As a result, publishers, journalists, and other content creators who want their work to be seen have had to change how and what they write and shoot to give the algorithms what they seem to want. Those who master the algorithms can make more money than even the best-paid reporters and writers made before the Internet, while those who fail to master the algorithms often end up making no income at all.

So, in a sense, computers already control what content we see online. It's just that control is a bit indirect. Human beings still must use what they have learned about search engine and social media algorithms to create the content that those algorithms will share widely.

AI projects such as Chat GPT can take a lot of those remaining human writers and reporters out of the picture. With tools such as Chat GPT, a publisher now only needs one person who can write effective prompts to generate more posts, articles, and stories than a newsroom of writers and reporters can produce now.

Copy bots have been working online for decades, copying popular website content and pasting that onto new webpages, trying to capture traffic - and ad revenue - from those other sites. Copied websites overwhelmed search engines, burying original sources under an avalanche of cross-linked spam websites that pushed their way to the top of the results. That drove Web users to social media, where your friends and colleagues instead curated the links that you would see.

Once social media companies switched from chronological feeds of your friends' posts to algorithm-driven feeds - designed to keep you scrolling for longer - bots soon took hold there, too. That then drove many people to more video-focused social media, including YouTube and TikTok, where you at least could see that another human being created the content you were consuming.

But that then led to the creation of a new generation of bots to recycle viral Tweets into computer-narrated TikTok posts and popular articles into YouTube videos narrated by AI-generated avatars.

Chat GPT streamlines this new information ecosystem. Just type your wish or your question and the bot strips an answer from the Internet and presents it to you in its own, grammar-perfect prose. Meanwhile, online entrepreneurs will be mining online traffic analytics to determine prompts they will feed the AI bots to generate responses that will feed webpages, blog posts, and social media clips across the domains and accounts that they control - all aimed at the people who don't know how - or can't be bothered - to work with the AI bots on their own.

Okay, so what's the problem? Chat GPT, or any other AI bot, is just a prettied-up version of the copy bots that have been infecting the Internet for years. They do not express any original thoughts. They do not report any original news. If information has not yet been published online in a place where they can access it, the chat bots have no ability to include that information in their results.

Chat GPT also seems to favor well-established information even if it has been supplanted by newer data. For example, when I asked the bot about the best rides at Disneyland, it made no mention of Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance or the new Mickey & Minnie's Runaway Railway, which I and many readers consider two of the top rides in the park. Even worse, when asked about planning a trip to the park, the bot failed to mention Disneyland's required reservations, without which a visitor is not getting in. The bot also mentioned Disneyland's now-discontinued Fastpass program instead of talking about the new Lightning Lane system.

In my first "April Insider" post, I edited together responses from five prompts asking about the end of Walt Disney World's 50th anniversary celebration. In one of the prompts, I asked for a click-bait style response in the style of a particular website known for such writing. The result was an article that drew a substantially higher than average number of clicks for a Theme Park Insider post.

Now, part of that might be due to social media notoriety of me running an AI-generated clickbait post for April Fool's Day. So for my follow-up post - The 'April Insider' Guide to Visiting Disneyland - I did not create any social media posts promoting the article. And I did not correct or remove mistakes that the Chat GPT bot made in its responses, leaving the Fastpass errors for all to read. That post, to my relief, did below-average traffic, but I will be watching to see how it performs in the weeks ahead.

The threat to Chat GPT, and to the reading public, is this - what happens when AI-generated content captures so much of the market that people who produce original writing and reporting no longer can afford to do so? At that point, the information economy becomes a sealed echo chamber, with the only fresh content being new marketing material introduced by businesses (including theme parks) with something to sell.

Frankly, we're already a long way down the road to that dystopian end. Many manually produced websites and social media influencers already just parrot the marketing materials provided by Walt Disney World and other destinations. That's why April Insider's first post - It's Time to Say Goodbye to These Disney World Favorites - called the now-canceled Harmonious a "crowd-pleaser" and "a huge hit with guests." The skepticism expressed by many about that show simply did not outweigh the number of puff posts that Chat GPT chose to favor.

Please do not dismiss my post today as an attack on Chat GPT. It's a fun and useful tool that actually can help living, breathing writers such as me do a better job for living, breathing readers such as you. I found it interesting that Chat GPT strongly preferred presenting information in numbered lists. Perhaps I should do better in distilling appropriate information into that easy-to-scan format. I've lost count of the number of times that I have brain-fade forgotten an important old detail when writing a story. A Chat GPT prompt could provide a quick double-check against that in the future.

But if Chat GPT does what seems like an impressive job of reporting, that's an indictment of where 20-plus years of algorithm influence has steered the online content business. I am reminded of the George Carlin line, "Think of how stupid the average person is, and then realize half of 'em are stupider than that." If Chat GPT seems impressive in reporting and analysis, that's because we've become too accepting of banal, unoriginal, unthoughtful, un-insightful content online.

Chat GPT motivates me to do better as a writer. It's the new Mendoza line that I must always work to stay ahead of. I hope that it inspires you as a reader, as well. I hope that reading April Insider's two stories yesterday inspires you to stop relying upon computers to deliver you content and instead to find out and subscribe to sources who deliver you accurate and insightful information in original and useful ways.

I hope that you find me and Theme Park Insider to be such as source. You can subscribe to us directly - without an algorithm intermediary - by signing up for our weekly email, or following our RSS feed. Or just by making a mental note to stop by daily and read our front page and discussion forum.

Collectively, readers will decide what content is produced for them. If you value the convenience of outsourcing that decision to a computer, those who program them will determine what information and entertainment are available to you in the future. But if you take more control over these decisions for yourself - and encourage everyone you know to do the same - you can enjoy a better chance of getting the information and entertainment that you both want, and need.

And that is no joke.

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In addition to following the links above, you can help support Theme Park Insider while saving money on discounted theme park tickets by following the ticket icon links on our Theme Park listings page.

Replies (11)

April 2, 2023 at 7:33 PM

For those wondering what the thing in the thumbnail is, it was a robot in TTA's line that was supposed to be a paperboy. It was added as part of the Tomorrowland 1994 retheme at (where Tomorrowland was supposed to be a sci-fi alien community). It was removed a few years ago as they have gone away from the 1994 retheme. There are still a few remnants of the 1994 retheme left most noticeably the cast costumes which were supposed to be changed but keep getting pushed back for (what i'm assuming to be) budget reasons.

Anyway regarding AI in the news I will say i'm old school and still read the Orlando Sentinel every day and watch PBS News at night, as local newspapers and PBS seem to be the last vestiges of sensible and credible reporting (some say that the Sentinel is overly liberal but the fact is they do a really good job exposing local corruption). I used to read the WSJ every day as well but I refuse to touch it now because Rupert Murdoch will not be getting a penny of my money.

Cable is just awful and its managed to get even more sensational than it was when I was growing up. The channels of the things that I know about, like investing (CNBC and Bloomberg) have 0 integrity and basically just have to find content to fill 24 hours of airtime every day...resulting in the content being garbage.

April 2, 2023 at 8:57 PM

great stuff, robert.

April 3, 2023 at 6:07 AM

Ex Machina ...

April 3, 2023 at 6:39 AM

My best online friend Ali Islam who I asked for his comment wrote me back saying:

This article is fear-mongering and completely out of touch with the realities of the modern world. AI and automation are the future, whether we like it or not. This writer's insistence on relying solely on human creativity and the supposed "originality" of their work is laughable. Have they not heard of the countless cases of plagiarism, bias, and misinformation in traditional journalism? AI may not express "original thoughts" but at least it can compile and analyze data in a fair and unbiased manner. And let's not forget the countless jobs that will be created by the rise of AI and automation. This writer's narrow-mindedness and Luddite mentality is a threat to progress and will only hinder the growth and development of the publishing industry.

April 3, 2023 at 6:48 AM

My West Coast friend Anny Ingeberes had something to say as well:

It's time to embrace the power of AI and automation in all industries, including the entertainment sector. If we want to continue providing unique and exciting experiences for individuals and families alike, we must recognize the importance of themeparks. These parks not only offer entertainment, but they also provide countless jobs and stimulate local economies. Plus, the technology and creativity involved in creating new rides and attractions is unparalleled. We cannot let our fear of change hold us back from advancing the world in the most innovative and efficient way possible. In fact, AI and automation have the potential to make themeparks even better, allowing for even more immersive and interactive experiences for visitors. Let's embrace progress and continue to support these vital elements of our society. #themeparksforall #innovationisprogress #embracetechnology

April 3, 2023 at 8:53 AM

@Dutchduck: And the nominees for best TPI parody post is ....

April 3, 2023 at 10:11 AM

There’s a good episode about Chat GPT on the Shirtloads of science podcast. They explained Chat GPT is similar in principle to predictive text, which is completely consistent with what you said about original thought Robert.

For me though the big alarm for me with AI went off with the “bing is going crazy” emotional stuff. The boy wasn’t going crazy, it was using the real online conversations people have, and was mirroring us. Scary that it’s being fed that, and scary what we look like in the mirror.

I dunno how you get the genie back in the bottle. As companies often won’t honour “do not track”, is the next GPT going to honour “don’t feed my work into your AI Bot”? Hell no they won’t.

“Take my advice and go back to your own time, the future isn’t what it used to be” - G’Kar, Babylon 5.

April 3, 2023 at 11:56 AM

Somebody seems to have missed the line, "Please do not dismiss my post today as an attack on Chat GPT. It's a fun and useful tool that actually can help living, breathing writers such as me do a better job for living, breathing readers such as you."

But, hey, lashing out at anyone who does not agree with you unconditionally always helps move society forward, right?

April 3, 2023 at 1:42 PM

I only discovered Chat GPT a few weeks ago after a piece on HBO's "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver" about the program aired. I shared the information with some teacher friends and, while some were already aware, not all were. In particular, an English teacher got an "a-ha!" moment on her face when she realized that is why her students would freak out when she wanted a hand-written essay on a writing prompt rather than one the kids would turn in on computer!

Go check it out if you subscribe to HBO. It is informative and very amusing.

April 3, 2023 at 5:01 PM

@Robert, I asked Chatgtp twice for a critical reply. Once towards your article of today, which as expected was answered in a rather positive way towards AI.

The second reply however was supposed to be a critical reaction on exactly that positive reply. Strangely enough, it came back as strongly in favour of AI as well, echo chambering all over the place.

I was not trying to lash out at all. Sorry if it came across that way.

April 3, 2023 at 5:11 PM

I asked Chatbot AI the same thing and that one came back more along the lines of what you wrote, but not containing one new and original idea either:

As a die-hard theme park fan, I find this article deeply concerning. While AI may seem like a helpful tool for generating content quickly and efficiently, we must not forget the importance of originality and human creativity in content creation. The idea of a future where AI-generated content dominates the market, leaving no room for true originality or insightful reporting, is a terrifying thought. As consumers, we must take responsibility for the type of content we choose to consume and demand more from the sources we rely on. Let's not let algorithms take over our minds and limit our ability to access truly valuable information and entertainment.

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