Take it easy on the guy. He’s dead. (Or why AI shouldn’t be allowed to write obituaries)

We’ve bandied about the various pluses and minuses here of letting artificial intelligence do our work for us. Whether it was the complete lack of quality writing or using incorrect synonyms, there have been a few amusing moments here and there. Some argue this is a disgrace while others are in the “the AI is getting there, just be patient” camp.

That said, I think we have officially hit one thing we can all agree on: AI shouldn’t be writing obituaries. Case in point, this piece on former NBA player Brandon Hunter:

The headline kind of says it all in terms of why nuance matters. In some cases “dead” and “useless” are easily interchangeable:

“The flashlight is dead.”

“The flashlight is useless.”

In a case like this, however, we shouldn’t be swapping those words, and they actually do create harm. I’d hate to think of what Hunter’s family members thought when this popped up in the news feeds. Also, nothing says, “We don’t think your loved one matters,” like letting a computer take the wheel on the obituary. (MSN has since removed the story, but it lives on in screen shots and the wayback machine.)

That’s to say nothing of the godawful writing this thing did, from the line “performed for the Boston Celtics” (Was he doing a Mr. Bojangles routine at halftime or something?) to the line about how he was “handed away at age 42.” (Still not as bad as the “Maris traded to the Angels” obit headline, but pretty close…)

As with most things, we shouldn’t let the machines do all the work without at least checking on them from time to time.

One thought on “Take it easy on the guy. He’s dead. (Or why AI shouldn’t be allowed to write obituaries)

Leave a Reply