The future of news: AI-driven feed wars

We’re about to see a wholesale restructuring of how people get the feeds of information that matters to them, especially news.

Right now there are three types of players. News organizations create news content and surround it with advertising. Consumers consume news and ads, sometimes paying for subscriptions. And between the two are intermediaries. The key intermediaries are search engines like Google and social media companies like Facebook. These intermediaries get you the “news you are most likely to want to see,” but they suck at it. (If your news feed on Facebook pleases you, I’m very surprised. And it you’re satisfied with the news that Google is feeding you, you must not be very selective.)

All that is about to change.

AI understands content and news

Tools like ChatGPT and Bard “understand” content in a way that’s different from what has come before. I put “understand” in quotes, because it’s clear there are limits to the actual ability of an AI to understand content. But if you ask ChatGPT or Bard to summarize something, the result is usually quite good. For example, here’s ChatGPT’s summary of my blog post “5 productive first steps for your next book.”

The article offers five productive first steps for starting a new book. Firstly, the writer suggests talking to smart people to gain knowledge and unique perspectives on the topic. Secondly, the writer recommends tracking down stories to gather case studies and gain new perspectives. Thirdly, the writer suggests researching what others are saying about the topic and finding ways to differentiate your idea. Fourthly, the writer recommends doing an idea development brainstorm with trusted partners to come up with a treatment, title, and subtitle for the book. Finally, the writer suggests writing with abandon to get ideas out of your head and move the idea along. The writer emphasizes the importance of starting these tasks to make serious progress on your book.

Now, consider what would happen if you apply this level of artificial intelligence (or the successor to this, since the technology is rapidly improving) to the constant stream of news that is flowing across the Web.

It will know what articles say and what ideas they include. It will be able to catalog facts and combine them. And it will know what points of view writers are coming from.

For example, here’s how Google’s Bard summarizes recent articles about the Ukraine war:

Here is a summary of articles in the last three months on the war between Russia and Ukraine:

  • The war has entered a new phase, with Russia focusing its efforts on eastern Ukraine. The fighting has been concentrated in the Donbas region, where Ukrainian forces have been putting up a strong resistance. However, Russia has made some gains, and it is unclear how long the Ukrainian military can hold out.
  • The war has had a devastating impact on Ukraine. Millions of people have been displaced from their homes, and thousands have been killed. The economy has been crippled, and the country is facing a humanitarian crisis.
  • The war has also had a significant impact on the global economy. Energy prices have soared, and supply chains have been disrupted. The war is also having a negative impact on global growth.
  • The United States and its allies have imposed a number of sanctions on Russia in an effort to pressure the country to withdraw its forces from Ukraine. The sanctions have had a significant impact on the Russian economy, but they have so far failed to achieve their desired effect.
  • The war in Ukraine is a major geopolitical crisis with far-reaching implications. It is unclear how long the war will last or what the ultimate outcome will be. However, it is clear that the war will have a profound impact on Ukraine, Russia, and the world.

Here are some additional details from recent articles about the war:

  • Russia has been accused of war crimes, including the bombing of civilian targets and the targeting of hospitals. The International Criminal Court (ICC) has opened an investigation into possible war crimes in Ukraine.
  • The United States and its allies have provided Ukraine with billions of dollars in military aid. The aid has helped Ukraine to bolster its military and to resist the Russian invasion.
  • The war in Ukraine has raised concerns about a wider conflict between Russia and the West. Some experts have warned that the war could escalate into a global conflict.

The war in Ukraine is a major crisis with far-reaching implications. It is important to stay informed about the latest developments and to understand the potential impact of the war on Ukraine, Russia, and the world.

AI-powered news feeds will change everything

Artificial intelligence based on large language models will change every element of the news economy. And since everyone is uneasy and wants to grab a piece of that future, those changes will happen quickly.

  • Startups will create AI-powered news aggregators that learn quickly what a given consumer is looking for and bring it to them. Some of those feeds will be paid, and some will be ad-supported. But the ad-supported feeds will have a lot smarter ad selection than the current dumb ad targeting we now see.
  • Search engines and social media giants will develop their own feed products. Meta will combine friend updates with the news it thinks you want — and a lot more smartly than it currently does. And Google and Bing will rapidly develop chat-based aggregators to replace their current products like Google News and Google Search — because AI threatens to completely displace those products. Those feeds will be configurable by consumers, and will learn what you want to see (and which sites you subscribe to).
  • News organizations will break out of their niches. Fox News will develop a conservative news feed that goes far beyond what’s on its channel, vetting and synthesizing carefully screened content from all over the Web for conservative viewers. The New York Times will do the same. So will Condé Nast, Hearst, and other media companies. Having been disintermediated by Google and Facebook, they’ll attempt to put their brands in front of consumers.

If this sounds at all to you like what happened in the streaming wars, that’s no surprise. A technology-based change in how customers consume media always generates a big reshuffling and major attempts at land grabs.

Consumers in 2028 will not be defined by what they subscribe to, they’ll be defined but what feed they consume. The quality and sensitivity of those feeds will determine who wins the feed wars.

We all consume different sets of news already. The AI-driven feed wars will only make that polarization more intense.

So as these new tools emerge, be careful what feeds you subscribe to. Because, in many ways, they’ll determine who you are and how you think.

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