Business Insider writes:
Microsoft News has shed dozens of editorial workers this past week as it moves to an AI-driven system of picking news and away from human editors for MSN.com, one of the world's biggest news destinations.
People close to the situation said the layoffs impacted all its contractors in the US, numbering around 50, all of whom are employed by staffing agencies Aquent and MAQ Consulting.
Calls and emails to those agencies seeking comment weren't returned. A Microsoft spokesperson said: "Like all companies, we evaluate our business on a regular basis. This can result in increased investment in some places and, from time to time, re-deployment in others. These decisions are not the result of the current pandemic."
The sources said the recent move is the latest in an ongoing shift by the tech giant to AI and away from human editors and original content in its news properties.
Microsoft News dates back to 1995 and served to promote Microsoft's internet service. It was part of a family of content and service sites at Microsoft including Slate, Sidewalk.com, and Expedia.com. Over the years, Microsoft has largely divested those sites and stopped producing original content. Its news aggregator MSN.com remains a top news destination, though. Comscore lists it as a top site in the US and Microsoft News claims to reach close to half a billion people in 140 countries.
Microsoft is similar to other tech companies in using algorithms to determine content selection. Others like YouTube and Facebook have faced criticism for relying too heavily on algorithms to surface content on their sites, though, resulting in fake and misleading news getting through. Facebook has tried to fix its credibility over the years by hiring human editors, but still relies mostly on algorithms in deciding what news to promote. Tim Cook has made a point of the fact that Apple News has a team of human editors running the news aggregation app, in contrast with rival Facebook.
Microsoft News draws photos, videos, and articles from more than 1,000 publishing partners including USA Today, The New York Times, and Fox News. Business Insider also is a partner. Laybourn said at the time that Microsoft paid $700 million to publishers for their content over four years.
On its site, Microsoft News says it uses AI to scans content, understand "dimensions like freshness, category, topic type, opinion content and potential popularity and then presents it for our editors. Our algorithms suggest appropriate photos to pair with content to help bring stories to life. Editors then curate the top stories throughout the day, across a variety of topics, so our readers get the latest news from the best sources."
Moving to automatic gathering and algorithmic ranking seems perfectly viable, mind you. There's so much news around that it's almost beyond a human team to look everywhere, every day. This is a task that machine learning will excel at, I think.
And yes, the content will keep arriving for our Microsoft News application on Windows 10 phones, tablets, and so on.