Facebook is developing a news-summarising AI called TL;DR

Ryan is a senior editor at TechForge Media with over a decade of experience covering the latest technology and interviewing leading industry figures. He can often be sighted at tech conferences with a strong coffee in one hand and a laptop in the other. If it's geeky, he’s probably into it. Find him on Twitter (@Gadget_Ry) or Mastodon (@gadgetry@techhub.social)

Facebook is developing an AI called TL;DR which summarises news into shorter snippets.

Anyone who’s spent much time on the web will know what TL;DR stands for⁠—but, for everyone else, it’s an acronym for “Too Long, Didn’t Read”.

It’s an understandable sentiment we’ve all felt at some point. People lead busy lives. Some outlets now even specialise in short, at-a-glance news.

The problem is, it’s hard to get the full picture of a story in just a brief snippet.

In a world where fake news can be posted and spread like wildfire across social networks – almost completely unchecked – it feels even more dangerous to normalise “news” being delivered in short-form without full context.

There are two sides to most stories, and it’s hard to see how both can be summarised properly.

However, the argument also goes the other way. When articles are too long, people have a natural habit of skim-reading them. Skimming in this way often means people then believe they’re fully informed on a topic… when we know that’s often not the case.

TL;DR needs to strike a healthy balance between summarising the news but not so much that people don’t get enough of the story. Otherwise, it could increase existing societal problems with misinformation, fake news, and lack of media trust.

According to BuzzFeed, Facebook showed off TL;DR during an internal meeting this week. 

Facebook appears to be planning to add an AI-powered assistant to TL;DR which can answer questions about the article. The assistant could help to clear up anything the reader is uncertain about, but it’s also going to have to prove it doesn’t suffer from any biases which arguably all current algorithms suffer from to some extent.

The AI is also going to have to be very careful in not taking things like quotes out-of-context and end up further automating the spread of misinformation.

There’s also going to be a debate over what sources Facebook should use. Should Facebook stick only to the “mainstream media” which many believe follow the agendas of certain powerful moguls? Or serve news from smaller outlets without much historic credibility? The answer probably lies somewhere in the middle, but it’s going to be difficult to get right.

Facebook continues to be a major source of misinformation – in large part driven by algorithms promoting such content – and it’s had little success so far in any news-related efforts. I think most people will be expecting this to be another disaster waiting to happen.

(Image Credit: Mark Zuckerberg by Alessio Jacona under CC BY-SA 2.0 license)

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