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International public leery of GenAI use in news

Fewer people use AI tools than expected. However, those who have used them are more optimistic about them, suggesting audience comfort may increase with familiarity over time.

June 18, 2024 | By Suzanne S. LaPierre – Independent Media Reporter@Bookmouser

The public has a knowledge gap around generative artificial intelligence (GenAI), especially when it comes to its use in news media, according to a recent study of residents in six countries. Younger people across countries are more likely to have used GenAI tools and be more comfortable and optimistic about the future of GenAI than older people. And a higher level of experience using Gen AI tools appears to correlate with more positive assessment of their utility and reliability. 

Over two thousand residents in each of six countries were surveyed for the May 2024 report What Does the Public in Six Countries Think of Generative AI in News? (Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism). The countries surveyed were Argentina, Denmark, France, Japan, the UK and the USA.

Younger people more optimistic about GenAI

Overall, younger people had higher familiarity and comfort with GenAI tools. They were also more optimistic about future use and more comfortable with the use of GenAI tools in news media and journalism.

  • People aged 18-24 in all six countries were much more likely to have used GenAI tools such as ChatGPT, and to use them regularly, than older respondents. Averaging across countries, only 16% of respondents 55+ report using ChatGPT at least once, compared to 56% aged 18 to 24.
  • Respondents 18-24 are much more likely to expect GenAI to have a large impact on ordinary people in the next five years. Sixty percent of people 18-24 expect this, while only 40% of people 55+ do.
  • In five out of six countries surveyed, people aged 18-34 are more likely to expect GenAI tools to have a positive impact in their own lives and on society. However, Argentia residents aged 45+ broke rank, expressing more optimism about GenAI improving both their own lives and society at large than younger generations.
  • Many respondents believe GenAI will improve scientific research, healthcare, and transportation. However, they express much more pessimism about its impact on news and journalism and job security.
  • Younger people, while still skeptical, have more trust in responsible use of GenAI by many sectors. This tendency is especially pronounced in sectors viewed with greatest skepticism by the overall public – such as government, politicians, social media, search engines, and news media.
  • Across all six countries, people 18-24 are significantly more likely than average to say they are comfortable using news produced entirely or partly by AI.

People don’t regularly use GenAI tools

Even the youngest generation surveyed reports infrequent use of GenAI tools. However, if the correlation between young people using GenAI more and feeling more optimistic and trusting about it holds true on a broader scale, it’s likely that as more people become comfortable using GenAI tools regularly, there will be less trepidation surrounding it.

  • Between 20-30% of the online public across countries have not heard of any of the most popular AI tools.
  • While ChatGPT proved by far the most recognized GenAI tool, only 1% of respondents in Japan, 2% in France and the UK, and 7% in the U.S. say they use ChatGPT daily. Eighteen percent of the youngest age group report using ChatGPT weekly, compared to only 3% of those aged 55+.
  • Only 5% of people surveyed across the six countries report using GenAI to get the latest news.

It’s worth noting that the populations surveyed were in affluent countries with higher-than-average education and internet connectivity levels. Less affluent, free, and connected countries likely have even fewer people experienced with GenAI tools.  

The jury is out on public opinion of GenAI in news

A great deal of uncertainty prevails around GenAI use among all people, especially those with lower levels of formal education and less experience using GenAI tools. Across all six countries, over half (53%) of respondents answered “neither” or “don’t know” when asked whether GenAI will make their lives better or worse. Most, however, think it will make news and journalism worse.

When it comes to news, people are more comfortable with GenAI tools being used for backroom work such as editing and translation than they are with its use to create information (writing articles or creating images).

There is skepticism about whether humans are adequately vetting content produced using GenAI. Many believe that news produced using GenAI tools is less valuable.

  • Users have more comfort around GenAI use to produce news on “soft” topics such as fashion and sports, much less to produce “hard” news such as international affairs and political topics.
  • Thirty percent of U.S. and Argentina respondents trust news media to use GenAI responsibly. Only 12% in the UK and 18% in France agree. For comparison, over half of respondents in most of the countries trust healthcare professionals to use GenAI responsibility.
  • Most of the public believes it is very important to have humans “in the loop” overseeing GenAI use in newsrooms. Almost half surveyed do not believe that is happening. Across the six-country average, only a third believe human editors “always” or “often” check GenAI output for accuracy and quality.
  • A cross-country average of 41% say that news created mostly by AI will be “less worth paying for” and 19% “don’t know. 32% answered “about the same.”

Opportunities to lead

These findings present a rocky road for news leaders to traverse. However, they also offer also an opportunity to fill the knowledge gap with information that is educational and reassuring.

Research indicates that the international public overall values transparency in news media as a general practice, and blames news owners and leadership (rather than individual journalists) when it is lacking. However, some research shows users claim to want transparency around GenAI tools in news, but trust news less once they are made aware of its use.

The fact that the public at large is still wavering presents an opportunity for media leaders to get out in front on this issue. Creating policy and providing transparency around the use of GenAI tools in news and journalism is critical. News leaders especially need to educate the public about their standards for human oversight around content produced using GenAI tools.

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