It's just over a year since Alphabet bet the company on artificial intelligence. Since then, the company has rolled out a series of updates with significant artificial intelligence upgrades. This week, Google is launching its new News app powered by artificial intelligence. Behind the app is a cultural shift at Google to boost more authoritative content. The company announced a new $300 million investment in media literacy to promote quality content online through MediaWise and a host of tools to support journalists on Google's revamped news recommendation platform.

Google artificial intelligence enters the war on fake news

The new Google News app, available this week in 127 countries, joins Google's flashier new artificial intelligence updates, including the one for Google Maps that promises you'll never get lost again, and Google Duplex, which is rolling out this summer to make calls for you with an eerily realistic human voice.

Google News launches its artificial intelligence content delivery system in a world jaded and jostled by fake news. A recent MIT study showed that fake news is 70% more likely to be tweeted. In the recent Edelman Trust Barometer survey, 59% of people said they were uncertain if any given story were 'true' or not.  "Access too reliable, quality information should be a right of anybody, wherever they live," says Alison Gow, digital editor in chief at Trinity Mirror, in a video released by Google on its news initiative.  

The question remains, will the Google News app protect quality journalism and punish propaganda, or is it going to be another flow of status quo?

"Bad actors are publishing content on forums and social media with the intent to mislead and capture people's attention as they rush to find trusted information online," wrote Richard Gringas, Google's VP of News, on a recent company blog post. "To reduce the visibility of this type of content during crisis or breaking news events, we've improved our systems to put more emphasis on authoritative results over factors like freshness or relevancy."

Elevating quality journalism, the Google way

In addition to the app, the Google News initiative includes a growing set of solutions for the newsroom, including Google-powered search, context and voice translation and transcription tools. Gringas wrote the overarching goal is, "It will enable new models for sustainable journalism, elevate quality journalism, and ensure technology allows journalists to do their job better than ever." 

According to Google News product chief Trystan Upstill, the news app "uses the best of artificial intelligence to find the best of human intelligence -- the great reporting done by journalists around the globe." Of course, some journalism these days is automated already. For example, the Associated Press uses Wordsmith AI to publish thousands of financial articles based on earnings information.

What you'll find on the new Google News app

Upstill wrote in a blog post that what's different about its product is that Google's AI will try to create related story lines out of all the news of the planet--a master plot for the world's news coverage. In his words, "the reimagined Google News uses a new set of AI techniques to take a constant flow of information as it hits the web, analyze it in real time and organize it into storylines." Here's a brief overview of what it looks like:

Briefing

5 stories Google picks for you, based on its history with you and your location. (If you prefer fake news, this might be your go-to tab.)

Full Coverage

There's a button to take you to more stories about the same topic, so you can dive in deeper. These articles are also "not curated" for you, and the company suggests they are selected and prioritized in part based on the trustworthiness of the news source.

Favorites

If you have favorite news sites, you can let Google know to source from these under this setting.

Headlines

These are the actual news stories, according to Google--not the ones curated to your tastes. "Having a productive conversation or debate requires everyone to have access to the same information," Upstill wrote, so content here is not filtered to your tastes.

Less, please.

You can tune the app to show you less of a topic as your tastes change.

Save stories.

When you find a gem you don't have time to finish, you can save articles for later.

Get your subscriptions.

If you have a subscription, you can manage it in the News app and subscribe with your Google account.

Cash vs. clicks remains a conflict

If this news app does live up to its potential, one thing it hopes to accomplish is a boost in readership for news publishers. Last year, Google's DoubleClick business shared $12 billion with publishers, according to a Schindler.

Then again, the question comes returns--who is a news publisher today? In an era of fake news and bot influencer networks, separating signal from propaganda is going to take the best science Google or anyone can leverage. 

"The economics are very clear: If you do not grow, we do not grow," Schindler said--which  suggests the root of the problem. While the goals of the new news initiative appear worthy, there's an inherent conflict in serving quality journalism and cashing in on clickbait. I'm curious about who the biggest winners were from Google's Double Click business--authoritative content producers or sensational entertainment engines?

Nevertheless, Schindler is adamant that Google's desire is to promote the content you can trust. "We're shifting even more toward authoritative sources with regard to breaking news . . . we're all in on trying to make a difference here," he said in a CNBC interview earlier this week. "Last year, we eliminated 3.2 billion bad ads on our system," he said.

Published on: May 23, 2018