New open challenge seeks to promote ethics in the use of AI and the news

Register now

In an era dominated by charges of fake news and political manipulation of public information, data professionals are becoming increasingly concerned about the role that artificial intelligence is having in the process of news gathering and dissemination, and are looking for ways to ensure those processes are bias-free.

Toward that goal, a new open call is offering $750,000 for ideas that will shape the impact artificial intelligence has on the field of news and information.

"From the algorithms that filter social media feeds, to machine-generated news stories, AI is playing an increasingly important role in influencing the quality of information online and how it is distributed and consumed," Tim Hwang, who leads the Ethics and Governance of Artificial Intelligence Initiative. "This transition is creating wide-ranging impacts that can have negative consequences, as AI becomes intertwined with the global spread of misinformation and disinformation online."

The "AI and the News: An Open Challenge" seeks new ideas that will ensure that this technology is used ethically and in the public interest in the news ecosystem, Hwand explained. It is presented by the Ethics and Governance of Artificial Intelligence Initiative, a research effort and philanthropic fund that works to ensure that automation and machine learning technologies are researched, developed and deployed in line with the social values of fairness, human autonomy and justice.

“AI has and will continue to have an outsized impact on news and information. While this presents significant opportunities, we’re increasingly concerned that decision-making around this technology is concentrated in the hands of a very few, and is being implemented without proper forethought. That leaves us all vulnerable to a host of risks,” said Hwang. “With this challenge, we hope to support a diverse range of communities in bringing their expertise to bear on the questions raised by the technology.”

Launched in 2017, the Ethics and Governance of Artificial Intelligence Initiative is a joint project of the MIT Media Lab and Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society. It is supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Omidyar Network, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

“More important than ever, communities need fair, accurate and contextual news to make informed decisions on the issues important to them,” said Paul Cheung, Knight Foundation’s director of journalism and technology innovation. “We hope this challenge will help engage a diverse range of people and ideas to ensure AI’s potential benefits to society, and to minimize its harm.”

The Open Challenge will support year-long projects that are focused on:

  • Improving platform governance: by promoting greater transparency in the way web platforms automate how information flows through the web. This might be new policies in the form of draft legislation, or technical tools that help keep an eye on the information ecosystem.
  • Stopping bad actors: by providing new approaches to detecting and countering the spread of disinformation online. This might include novel ways of identifying patterns of disinformation, or more effectively delivering credible fact checks to communities that are the targets of disinformation campaigns.
  • Reimagining the intersection of AI and the news: by painting a picture of the future. The open call for projects is seeking mockups and prototypes envisioning how platforms from smartphones and social media sites to search engines and online news outlets might be redesigned to better serve the public good.
  • Empowering journalism: by giving journalists the tools they need to effectively communicate about AI and its impact. This might include resources to keep journalists better informed about developments in machine learning research, or ways to better help articulate the deeper nuances of this technology.

This challenge is open to anyone: journalists, designers, technologists, policy makers, activists, entrepreneurs, artists, lawyers from a variety of communities around the world - anyone with a good idea for addressing the challenges presented by AI in the news and information landscape.

To learn more or to apply, visit

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, click here.