Chaser sets up a paywall to thwart artificial intelligence training

Australian satirical publication The Chaser puts its online content behind a paywall over concerns its archives will be used to train artificial intelligence models that will one day replace its authors.

At the end of last year, Hunter Editor Cam Smith announced that the comedy outlet will change its decade-long approach to publishing free online content and begin restricting access to users who have signed up with a free account.

Paywall content is commonplace in digital media, an industry that has progressively transitioned from an ad-supported model to a subscription-based model over the past decade. The ChaserHowever, the decision cited another reason for the decision: the emergence of publicly available artificial intelligence products with large language models.

“What really nailed The Free Chaser’s coffin is a little thing called [OpenAI’s artificial intelligence product] GPT,” Smith wrote.

As a new generation of artificial intelligence products sparks a fresh wave of fears that people’s jobs will be automated, Smith argues that satirists, too, are at risk of being replaced: “Even now, [ChatGPT] is a more competent satirical writer than most people we’ve worked with. That includes myself, and I’ve been writing news satire for 16 years.”

Artificial intelligence models like GPT-3 ingest huge data sets to create connections, which are then used to generate content in response to a user’s prompt. GPT-3 was primarily trained on a dataset called the Common Crawl, which includes more than 3 billion web pages scraped from the internet – which may already be included The Chaser‘s work (crikey could not confirm if their catalog was captured because the record was temporarily unbrowsable).

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Smith, who studied computer science at university, tells crikey that he “absolutely” believes that artificial intelligence can produce good satire.

“Current comedy is really just a numbers game as you throw 100 writers on the daily news and maybe five come back with the same joke because there are comedy writing patterns and rules that they will all follow,” he said.

“Two things computers are very good at is repeating rules and generating results on an inhumanly large scale, so they’re made for this stuff.”

Artificial intelligence expert Dr. Alan D. Thompson agreed that artificial deep learning models like GPT-3 are capable of creative acts like satire.

“What they do is like when a person goes to an art gallery or sees thousands of paintings. When it gets a prompt, it designs how something might sound or look like and builds something like that,” he said.

Thompson shared his experience with Leta – an artificial intelligence product that feeds a GPT-3 text model into a synthetic avatar to create a lifelike but artificial persona – where the program spawned jokes with clever wordplay and expressed emotions. He said Leta even coined a word – “buschjoy” – to explain the excitement and pleasure of being in the wild.

One of the obstacles to artificial intelligence language models is that the information used to create connections used to answer prompts is based on static data sets and not real-time information. For example, ChatGPT does not know about the January 8th uprising in Brazil, but it does know about the January 6th uprising in the US because its database was recorded after the event.

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The lack of current knowledge is a challenge for current humor created by artificial intelligence. But Smith believes it’s only a matter of time before that changes. He even went so far as to email Google to learn more about an internal language model that allegedly “mastered” humor. (Google never got back to him.)

Thompson, on the other hand, said the computing power required to make the connections in the datasets is so enormous that real-time processing is still a long way off. He’s also more optimistic about what humorous artificial intelligence could do to satirists.

“Artificial intelligence can amplify and expand us. It will not be recreated Hunter article word for word. But it’s a new paradigm,” he said.

The Chaser has received 40,000 free signups since the paywall announcement, and the publication hopes they can convince those users to pay in the future, too.

Smith said the satire site has an even bigger audience out there, but they’re hard to reach due to the whims of social media platforms and their algorithms — another challenge plaguing the digital media industry. To prove his point, Smith revealed at the end of the post announcing the change that “half” of the text had been written by artificial intelligence.

“If we’re being honest, it was more like a third was written by AI given the edits and tweaks we made, but that doesn’t sound as good as ‘half of the article was written by AI'” Smith trusts.