It's another AI failure for Microsoft News as it asks users to vote on how a young woman died

Robot creating a poll
(Image credit: Kevin Okemwa | Bing Image Creator)

What you need to know

  • An article by The Guardian covering the unfortunate passing of a young woman was featured in Microsoft Start, and alongside it was an AI-generated poll asking readers to vote on how she died.
  • Readers were outraged with the intensive poll shifting blame to the outlet and author.
  • The Guardian fears that the poll will negatively impact its reputation.
  • The chief executive has since reached out to Microsoft's President seeking clarification, stressing the importance of a strong copyright framework that gives publishers control over their content.
  • Microsoft issued a statement indicating that it is investigating the matter and putting elaborate measures in place to prevent such an occurrence. 

With generative AI now more widespread than ever, the importance of human intervention is becoming more apparent. It's barely been three months since Microsoft published an AI-generated article recommending Ottawa Food Bank as a top tourist attraction in Canada (though it has since been pulled down), and yet another bizarre and insensitive incident has occurred. 

The Guardian accuses Microsoft of tarnishing its reputation by incorporating a poll marked "Insights from AI" next to an article from the outlet talking about the unfortunate passing of a woman, according to a spot by The Verge. The poll insensitively featured several options, including murder, accident, or suicide, which readers were supposed to pick from to guess how the woman lost her life. 

The insensitive poll has since been pulled down, but The Guardian indicates that the damage has already been done, not to mention the emotional turmoil caused to the bereaved family. Going by the comments left on the article, it's obvious that the readers weren't too happy about it. In fact, some readers believe that the insensitive poll was the author's own doing and that the outlet was pointing fingers at AI to cover up its tracks. 

A screenshot of the insensitive AI-generated poll on The Guardian's story covering the tragic death of a young woman, as well as comments from readers enraged by the poll. (Image credit: The Guardian)

The Guardian Media Group's chief executive, Anna Bateson, has already penned a letter to Microsoft's President, Brad Smith, raising concerns over the AI-generated poll featured in their story and further expressing the potential negative impact it could or might have on the outlet.

This is clearly an inappropriate use of genAI [generative AI] by Microsoft on a potentially distressing public interest story, originally written and published by Guardian journalists.

Anna Bateson ,Guardian chief executive

The chief executive stressed the importance of having a strong copyright framework, as it enables publishers to establish control over how their content is leveraged. Bateson also asked Microsoft to refrain from applying experimental AI technology on or alongside the outlet's stories, especially without its consent. And in the event that it does, it's important to ensure that the readers are notified where the "extra features" stem from. 

Has AI gone rogue?

This isn't the first time we've witnessed such an occurrence. In September, an article republished via MSN went viral for using AI to write an obituary that called a recently deceased 42-year-old former NBA player 'useless.'

The Verge reached out to Microsoft for a statement regarding the bizarre occurrence and how the AI-generated poll got clearance from the moderation team. Microsoft's general manager, Kit Thambiratnam, responded by stating:

"We have deactivated Microsoft-generated polls for all news articles and we are investigating the cause of the inappropriate content. A poll should not have appeared alongside an article of this nature, and we are taking steps to help prevent this kind of error from reoccurring in the future."

AI has its wins, if recent reports are anything to go by, a lot of work still needs to be done. It's also apparent that human intervention is still crucial, especially in such a case, and it is highly unlikely that such an occurrence would have taken place.

President Biden recently issued an Executive Order touching on this specific issue, alongside other AI safety, security, and trust issues. It will be interesting to see the impact it has in the long run.

Do you think AI has the capability to generate content without making such mistakes? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.

Kevin Okemwa

Kevin Okemwa is a seasoned tech journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya with lots of experience covering the latest trends and developments in the industry. With a passion for innovation and a keen eye for detail, he has written for leading publications such as OnMSFT, MakeUseOf, and Windows Report, providing insightful analysis and breaking news on everything revolving around the Microsoft ecosystem. While AFK and not busy following the ever-emerging trends in tech, you can find him exploring the world or listening to music.

  • leo lozano
    "Readers were outraged with the intensive poll shifting blame to the outlet and author"

    was the poll very adamant about the outlet and author being the perpetrators of the crime mentioned in the article? or what exactly does that statement mean?