The Gradient
The Gradient: Perspectives on AI
Nicholas Thompson: AI and Journalism

Nicholas Thompson: AI and Journalism

On journalism, editing, running, creating good conversational spaces, and why building AGI might be a mistake.

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In episode 111 of The Gradient Podcast, Daniel Bashir speaks to Nicholas Thompson.

Nicholas is the CEO of The Atlantic. Previously, he served as editor-in-chief of Wired and editor of Nick also cofounded Atavist, which sold to Automattic in 2018. Publications under Nick’s leadership have won numerous National Magazine Awards and Pulitzer Prizes, and one WIRED story he edited was the basis for the movie Argo. Nick is also the co-founder of Speakeasy AI, a software platform designed to foster constructive online conversations about the world’s most pressing problems.

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  • (00:00) Intro

  • (02:12) Nick’s path into journalism

    • (03:25) The Washington Monthly — a turning point

  • (05:09) Perspectives from different positions in the journalism industry

  • (08:16) What is great journalism?

    • (09:42) Example from The Atlantic

    • (11:00) Other examples/pieces of good journalism

    • (12:20) Pieces on aging

  • (12:56) Mortality and life-force associated with running — Nick’s piece in WIRED

    • (15:30) On urgency

  • (18:20) The job of an editor

  • (22:23) AI in journalism — benefits and limitations

  • (26:45) How AI can help writers, experimentation

  • (28:40) Examples of AI in journalism and issues: CNET, Sports Illustrated, Nick’s thoughts on how AI should be used in journalism

  • (32:20) Speakeasy AI and creating healthy conversation spaces

    • (34:00) Details about Speakeasy

    • (35:12) Business pivots and business model trouble

    • (35:37) Remaining gaps in fixing conversational spaces

    • (38:27) Lessons learned

    • (40:00) Nick’s optimism about Speakeasy-like projects

    • (43:14) Social simulacra, a “Troll WestWorld,” algorithmic adjustments in social media

  • (46:11) Lessons and wisdom from journalism about engagement, more on engagement in social media

  • (50:27) Successful and unsuccessful futures for AI in journalism

    • (54:17) Previous warnings about synthetic media, Nick’s perspective on risks from synthetic media in journalism

    • (57:00) Stop trying to build AGI

    (59:13) Outro


The Gradient
The Gradient: Perspectives on AI
Deeply researched, technical interviews with experts thinking about AI and technology.