Speaker emphasized the importance of comprehensive AI education for professional organizations, warns of AI hallucinations and misinformation
By Autumn Shelton, WV Press Association
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – There are many concerns surrounding the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in the workplace, but through proper education and oversight, AI could evolve into a valuable tool, provided that human involvement remains integral, according to Amy Cyphert, Lecturer in Law at West Virginia University.
Cyphert, who developed and teaches a course on AI and the law at WVU, spoke before members of the media during the West Virginia Press Association’s annual convention, where she delved into the fundamentals of AI before discussing its challenges.
Cyphert presented “Artificial intelligence, ethics and its implications for communications” to a room filled with media, public relations and advertising professionals, and state leaders.
Given AI’s inevitable growth, Cyphert emphasized the need for increased discussions surrounding the technology.
As a subfield of computer science, AI is nothing new, Cyphert explained. Programmers input algorithms (step-by-step instructions) into computers to execute specific tasks. Machine learning, a subfield of AI, empowers computers to explore and learn autonomously, updating their own code based on patterns.
“So now, instead of a human having to tell every single step in the process, . . . the human is programming the computer to say, ‘Notice patterns here, and apply them there,’’’ Cyphert continued. “It’s having the computer update its own code as it goes.”
“Machines have “scraped” information from various online sources– including journalistic content, legal documents, books, Reddit posts–and fed it into large language models like ChatGPT,” Cyphert noted. While these models are capable of producing insightful information, they are also susceptible to embedding human biases and “lies.”
“Machine learning is sometimes called a black box,” Cyphert said, adding this is because humans find deciphering its intricate pattern recognition and prediction process challenging.
“We can know what the inputs were. We can know, ‘Here is the data that this algorithm was trained on.’ We can know, ‘Here’s what the folks who developed the algorithm were optimizing it for.’ We can know all of that and we can know, ‘Here’s the output. Here’s what it predicted,’ or ‘Here’s what it said’ or ‘Here’s what it did,” Cyphert said. “But, that part in the middle, why? What pattern was the machine recognizing? What was it zeroing in on? How many times did it update? That’s really difficult to explain in a way that humans can understand.”
One well-documented issue, according to Cyphert, is the ability for AI to fabricate legal briefs and newspaper articles in what has been termed “AI hallucinations.”
“AI hallucinations are a big problem, and they are something that everyone needs to be aware of,” she said. “These tools are not fact checking tools. They are certainly not research tools. Again, they are predicting a pattern.”
Other issues for AI include misinformation and intellectual property disputes, Cyphert added.
“We don’t have answers yet,” Cyphert said for these issues, but they will most likely “work their way” through the legal system.
In the meantime, Cyphert emphasized the importance of comprehensive AI education for professional organizations. She warned against the replacement of humans, especially in journalism, where relationships, interviews and local knowledge are indispensable.
“It would be catastrophic if [AI] replaced humans, replaced journalists,” Cyphert said. “ChatGPT can’t have local relationships. ChatGPT can’t interview sources. ChatGPT can’t, sort of, know the right person to call when you need a quote. It’ll just make all that stuff up, right? That’s bad, we don’t want that,” she stated.
“I tell lawyers and judges that I think if you want to use these tools, you really have to understand them well enough to know both the pros and the cons, because you can’t make an informed decision if you don’t understand the pros and the cons,” Cyphert continued.
“I always think it’s really important to have a human in the loop,” Cyphert noted, adding, “nothing should ever go from having a large language model to readers without a human being part of that.”
Responding to a question, Cyphert stated that newsrooms are “absolutely” using the technology, as are many in the legal field.
“Some newsrooms have already developed policies where they’re saying things like, ‘Anytime we are using something generated, we will note that. We will just say, ‘This article was generated, in part or in whole, by AI,’” Cyphert explained. “So, some of them are saying that. I also think that there are a lot of people that might be using it . . . and not even noting that.”
West Virginia Press Association Executive Director Don Smith said a concern with AI is the ethical decisions when media companies compare reducing payroll expenses to the challenges with using AI.
Cyphert responded that every professional organization should consider the ethics of using AI.
“Fear is a powerful motivator, and I don’t think any publisher wants to put out something that is demonstrably false, and that maybe sets you up for defamation liability and all sorts of other problems,” Cyphert said. “At the same time, I recognize that it is expensive, sometimes, to run really well researched and well done stories, and that there will always be the temptation to try to figure out where the margin is.”
Cyphert’s complete presentation can be found online at wvpress.org.
The West Virginia Press Association’s annual convention was held Aug. 11-12 in Charleston at the Four Points by Sheraton, located along the banks of the Kanawha River.
The convention was made possible through the sponsorship of the W.Va. School of Osteopathic Medicine, GameChanger, AARP of West Virginia, WVU University Relations, the WVPA Foundation, New River Gorge Regional Development Authority, W.Va. Hive, Highmark, BHE Renewables, City National Bank, W.Va. Department of Tourism, CAMC/Vandalia Health, ONE – Our Next Energy, WV Nursery and Landscaping Association, Asher Agency, the Associated Press, and Affiliated Construction Trades of West Virginia.