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Microsoft to replace journalists with AI

The tech giant is shifting away from humans in favour of automated news, according to reports

Microsoft is reportedly planning to replace contracted journalists that work on the homepages of MSN and its Edge browser with artificial intelligence

The tech giant won't renew contracts for roughly 50 US employees at the end of the month, according to The Seattle Times, while The Guardian reports that around 27 journalists are being let go in the UK. 

The contracted employees, hired through staffing agencies, were reportedly notified last week that their services would not be needed beyond 30 June. The 27 UK employees affected, who were employed by PA Media, were told on Thursday that their jobs would be terminated as Microsoft is shifting away from humans in favour of automated news updates

A spokesperson for PA Media told The Guardian: “We are in the process of winding down the Microsoft team working at PA, and we are doing everything we can to support the individuals concerned. We are proud of the work we have done with Microsoft and know we delivered a high-quality service.”

Many publications have had to let journalists go due to the impact of COVID-19 and the outbreak has also accelerated a number of cloud-based technologies. According to some of those whose contracts are not being renewed, the curation of news on MSN is already partly automated. 

"It's been semi-automated for a few months but now it's full speed ahead,'' one of the terminated contractors told The Seattle Times. "It's demoralising to think machines can replace us but there you go.''

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Microsoft is retaining full-time news producers, according to the reports, but the functions of the contracted employees will be taken up by automation. This includes using algorithms to sources trending news stories and optimising the content by rewriting the headline or adding different images or slide shows.

The contracted journalists also created news pieces, maintained editorial calendars of partner news sites and even assigned content to them but it isn't clear if this will also be taken on by the software.  

"Like all companies, we evaluate our business on a regular basis," a company spokesman said in a statement. "This can result in increased investment in some places and, from time to time, re-deployment in others. These decisions are not the result of the current pandemic."

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