Artifact, the self-described “personalized news feed powered by artificial intelligence,” is now live and ready for use by the public. The app was previously introduced last month and seeks to aggregate news stories from top outlets using artificial intelligence.
Artifact was developed by Instagram co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, and was previously released as an invite-only platform ahead of its widespread release today. While the app doesn’t reinvent the wheel with its bare-bones news feed, TechCrunch is reporting that future iterations of Artifact will include social networking that allows you discuss the news with friends. Sounds like a non-anonymous Reddit.
The app won’t require you to sign up after downloading, but will prompt you to select ten areas of interest which range from home products, to U.S. politics, to men’s style. Artifact also allows you to link subscriptions to your account to prioritize the news you pay for. But the app’s pièce de résistance is its artificial intelligence engine, which learns about your reading habits as you dive into the news.
“Feed improves each time you read,” Artifact tells you when you finish signing up. “Read 25 articles for Artifact to better personalize your feed. Track progress on your profile.”
After playing around, I found the app’s interface cute but clunky. It’s sleek and minimal, which I enjoyed navigating, but the main aesthetic issue is with how articles are presented. Artifact does not open the article in its own in-app interface, but instead opens up an internet browser window within the app that then loads the article. Likewise, while I have the option to prioritize my subscriptions to news outlets, I do not have the option to hide outlets I don’t subscribe to, meaning I run into a paywall more often than not.
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On the back-end, Artifact is powered by an AI to feed you news that it thinks you’ll like, but I can’t help but worry about how that could influence the way I consume news—or rather how news consumes me. Artifact is learning what I like and don’t like, meaning it’s going to find what news I click on, try to figure out why, and repeat the process.
While that may seem innocuous in the sense of Artifact consistently feeding me reviews of The Last of Us, how might the app detect and exploit my own political biases? What does my own doom scrolling tell Artifact? While news aggregators use AI all the time, Artifact appeared to be no different in its efforts toward creating a Kevin-sized echo chamber for me to live in—it’s a tale as old as time with AI.
“Our algorithm is fuzzy enough that you will likely see, a big portion of the time, exploration content,” Systrom told Gizmodo on the phone this afternoon. This “exploration content” is content that the Artifact AI isn’t fully sure that you’ll like, but feeds to you anyway in an attempt to learn more about you. Systrom says that a good machine learning algorithm actually won’t feed you the same content all the time, because that bores and frustrates users.
There’s also the concern about blatantly false or extremist content coming from either side of the political spectrum being served up to Artifact readers. Well, Systrom says that Artifact does carry news from both sides of the aisle, but the platform can pull misinformation from users’ feed when the team becomes privy to it. Likewise, Systrom told Gizmodo that the company uses third-party fact checking services like Politifact and Allsides.com to try and trump biased news.
“Our goal is to have publishers across the ideological spectrum subject to quality and integrity,” Systrom explained. He added: “The only content that’s allowed to be distributed is subject to a high quality bar.”
If you’re still not satisfied with these efforts, then might I point you to Artifact’s Headlines tab (designated by the globe icon)? Headlines collects multiple different outlets’ articles on a given issue to give you a manual attempt at avoiding bias.
Artifact is currently available to anyone on iOS or Android.
Update February 22 4:45 pm EST: This article was updated to include quotes and perspective from Artifact co-founder Kevin Systrom.