Last week, we reported that the prominent technology news site CNET had been quietly publishing articles generated by an unspecified “AI engine.”
The news sparked outrage. Critics pointed out that the experiment felt like an attempt to eliminate work for entry-level writers, and that the accuracy of current-generation AI text generators is notoriously poor. The fact that CNET never publicly announced the program, and that the disclosure that the posts were bot-written was hidden away behind a human-sounding byline — “CNET Money Staff” — made it feel as though the outlet was trying to camouflage the provocative initiative from scrutiny.
After the outcry, CNET editor-in-chief Connie Guglielmo acknowledged the AI-written articles in a post that celebrated CNET‘s reputation for “being transparent.”
Without acknowledging the criticism, Guglielmo wrote that the publication was changing the byline on its AI-generated articles from “CNET Money Staff” to simply “CNET Money,” as well as making the disclosure more prominent.
Furthermore, she promised, every story published under the program had been “reviewed, fact-checked and edited by an editor with topical expertise before we hit publish.”
That may well be the case. But we couldn’t help but notice that one of the very same AI-generated articles that Guglielmo highlighted in her post makes a series of boneheaded errors that drag the concept of replacing human writers with AI down to earth.
Take this section in the article, which is a basic explainer about compound interest (emphasis ours):
“To calculate compound interest, use the following formula:
Initial balance (1+ interest rate / number of compounding periods) ^ number of compoundings per period x number of periods
For example, if you deposit $10,000 into a savings account that earns 3% interest compounding annually, you’ll earn $10,300 at the end of the first year.“
It sounds authoritative, but it’s wrong. In reality, of course, the person the AI is describing would earn only $300 over the first year. It’s true that the total value of their principal plus their interest would total $10,300, but that’s very different from earnings — the principal is money that the investor had already accumulated prior to putting it in an interest-bearing account.
“It is simply not correct, or common practice, to say that you have ‘earned’ both the principal sum and the interest,” Michael Dowling, an associate dean and professor of finance at Dublin College University Business School, told us of the AI-generated article.
It’s a dumb error, and one that many financially literate people would have the common sense not to take at face value. But then again, the article is written at a level so basic that it would only really be of interest to those with extremely low information about personal finance in the first place, so it seems to run the risk of providing wildly unrealistic expectations — claiming you could earn $10,300 in a year on a $10,000 investment — to the exact readers who don’t know enough to be skeptical.
Another error in the article involves the AI’s description of how loans work. Here’s what it wrote (again, emphasis ours):
“With mortgages, car loans and personal loans, interest is usually calculated in simple terms.
For example, if you take out a car loan for $25,000, and your interest rate is 4%, you’ll pay a flat $1,000 in interest per year.”
Again, the AI is writing with the panache of a knowledgeable financial advisor. But as a human expert would know, it’s making another ignorant mistake.
What it’s bungling this time is that the way mortgages and auto loans are typically structured, the borrower doesn’t pay a flat amount of interest per year, or even per monthly payment. Instead, on each successive payment they owe interest only on the remaining balance. That means that toward the beginning of the loan, the borrower pays more interest and less principal, which gradually reverses as the payments continue.
It’s easy to illustrate the error by entering the details from the CNET AI’s hypothetical scenario — a $25,000 loan with an interest rate of 4 percent — into an auto loan amortization calculator. The result? Contrary to what the AI claimed, there’s never a year when the borrower will pay a full $1,000, since they start chipping away at the balance on their first payment.
CNET‘s AI is “absolutely” wrong in how it described loan payments, Dowling said.
“That’s just simply not the case that it would be $1,000 per year in interest,” he said, “as the loan balance is being reduced every year and you only pay interest on the outstanding balance.”
The problem with this description isn’t just that it’s wrong. It’s that the AI is eliding an important reality about many loans: that if you pay them down faster, you end up paying less interest in the future. In other words, it’s feeding terrible financial advice directly to people trying to improve their grasp of it.
Link to the rest at Futurism
PG says somebody (not PG) is going to start a website that features errors made by AI systems.
PG also says that AI is roughly where airplanes were when, on December 17, 1903, the Wright Flyer traveled 120 feet in 12 seconds at speed of 6.8 miles per hour at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.
Fifteen years later, a British Sopwith Dragon flew at a speed of 149 miles per hour. Twenty-two years after that, the Lockheed P-38 flew at 400 mph. Late in World War II, a Messerschmitt Me.262 reached a sustained top speed of 540 mph.
PG says AI development isn’t like airplane development. It’s going to be much, much faster.