When times are tough, the tough cut expenses. That includes tech giant Microsoft who is cutting dozens of journalists and editorial staff and replacing them with artificial intelligence software, reports The Guardian. Starting in July, Microsoft News, MSN and Microsoft Edge will feature AI-generated news stories instead of content that is manually curated by reporters and editors. Microsoft has been working on AI for news in recent months, a trend that has been growing.
Business Insider said that about 50 of the affected jobs are from the U.S., while about 27 are job cuts in the U.K. Many of the two dozen-plus reporters and editors were part of Microsoft’s SANE unit (search, ads, News and Edge), says The Verge.
According to The Guardian, the journalists who worked on the Microsoft site did not do original reporting, but they curated news articles produced by other media organizations. They occasionally edited the headlines and content to fit the MSN format, following strict editorial guidelines to ensure inappropriate or violent content was not served up to readers. Microsoft, who earned advertising revenue from those stories, shared the income with the originating publishers.
“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,” said a Microsoft spokesperson.
“Like all companies, we evaluate our business on a regular basis. 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,” the spokesperson said.
The news comes just a month after Microsoft released its third quarter financials for its fiscal year 2020. For the period ended March 31, 2020, Microsoft had revenue of $35.0 billion, a 15% increase year-over-year. Operating income was $13.0 billion, a 25% increase. Net income was $10.8 billion, an increase of 22%, or $1.40 diluted earnings per share, a 23% increase.
In that earnings report, Microsoft said that COVID-19 had a minimal net impact on company revenue. In fact, revenue and subscriptions both saw increases during its third quarter. During its earnings report, CEO Satya Nadella spoke of the increase in usage of artificial intelligence across industries, including healthcare, direct-to-consumer subscriptions.
“Our focus remains on strategically managing the company for the long-term, with decisions optimized for delivering greater customer value and long-term financial growth and profitability,” said Amy Hood, executive vice president and chief financial officer.
Using artificial intelligence to curate news is not a new concept, and it is something that Microsoft has been working on. This news should not come as a surprise, but in the wake of COVID-19, it does. With tens of millions of Americans out of work, the timing of this change couldn’t be worse. We will be curious to see how the quality of news content on Microsoft News, MSN and Edge changes as the transition occurs. Does AI-generated content need human oversight for quality control?