Refusing AI: How Journalists Avoid Falling for AI’s Hype

Following a year-long series of interviews with journalists and newsworkers, this presentation draws from the concept of technological refusal to understand how journalists are anticipating and appropriating AI systems in their newsrooms. Refusal can take two forms. On the one hand, it can signal the withdrawal from engaging with certain technologies. “I will not work with AI.” On the other, refusal does not have to be a conversation-ender. As my research shows, journalists are, on an informed basis, refusing to engage with artificial intelligence systems on the terms set by third-party stakeholders. In doing so, journalists are opening the door to have a different conversation: A conversation about how to engage with these systems differently. Journalists are imagining new ways of being with AI systems, auditing these technologies not as individuals but as a well-informed collective. In doing so, journalists’ refusal is an act of design that informs how these technologies are being appropriated in their newsrooms. In this talk, I present results from different research projects that identify not only shortcomings inside newsrooms in the form of knowledge silos and low media literacy but also strategies aimed at generating new opportunities to use refusal as a gatekeeping strategy to improve their work.

Tomás Dodds is an Assistant Professor in Journalism and New Media at Leiden University and a Faculty Associate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. He is also a researcher in the AI, Media & Democracy Lab in the Netherlands and the Artificial Intelligence and Society Hub [IA+SIC] in Chile. Tomás’ current research interests focus on artificial intelligence and automation in the media sector, immersive technologies, civic data science, and governance of technologies and the Internet.