Sputnik published an article over the weekend about how the Silicon Valley tech leader gave the UK Press Association $800,000 as part of Google’s three-year $170 million “Digital News Initiative”, which includes as one of its many goals the creation of automated, or robot-written, “news”. This specific program is formally known as “Reporters and Data and Robots”, or RADAR, and according to what was written about it, Google’s planned ‘robot reporters’ will rely on open sources such as government and police departments to generate reports that they’ll then send to other media outlets for proliferation or to provide the basis for human-written articles.
There are a lot of technical details about how this will work, but that’s not what I’m interested in discussing today. Instead, I’d like to take a look at the pros and cons of this system and assess the impact that it’s poised to have on the international media and the global information space in general. On the positive side of things, RADAR could be very useful as a news aggregator if it succeeds in sourcing information from as many well-known and obscure open sources as it claims it will, especially if it provides an easy-to-use search feature for narrowing results. Moreover, algorithms have already proven themselves impressively capable of identifying far-reaching patterns that human minds can’t conceive of on their own because of Big Data’s ability to process millions upon millions of information points, which could be relevant in this context if it’s used to regularly produce news reports about the economy, society, and crime.
The problem, however, is that the RADAR service might have a prohibitively expensive cost point which would essentially relegate this de-facto news wire service to the domain of Mainstream Media companies who could then act as gatekeepers to either disseminate it to the public through their usual filters or resell some of the more targeted raw reports to different clients, which in both cases makes them the information broker between Google and the public. There’s also the fact that RADAR’s reports in and of themselves might not be as accurate as people expect them to be because there’s a huge difference between compiling facts in an organized form and attempting to extrapolate patterns and analysis from them about any given topic, especially fast-changing international events. Another foreseeable problem is that there’s no telling which sources Google won’t allow the RADAR program to use, meaning that it could potentially self-censor its reports by avoiding alternative information from Russian and other multipolar media, or dismissively misportraying it and their outlets as “propaganda”.
Overall, Google’s entrance into the automated “news” business speaks to its desire to monopolize this emerging industry and set the company on the path to expanding its ever-growing political power. It already controls the information sphere through its carefully curated search engine, and now it wants to be in charge of how people interpret what they come across through its services as well. This puts the company in the prime position to wield its unparalleled power over human perception as a political tool in the future, whether it’s to turn citizens against their governments, interfere in election campaigns, or streamline a global unipolar narrative.