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Man vs. Machine

Jonathan Clements

COULD HUMBLEDOLLAR be replaced by a website chock-full of articles created using artificial intelligence? The short answer: It would be remarkably easy—and I fear readers wouldn’t object, especially if they didn’t know how the articles were generated.

To show what’s possible, I requested eight personal-finance articles from three freely available artificial intelligence (AI) tools, ChatGPT, Google’s Gemini and Microsoft’s Copilot. The first of those articles is published today, with the other seven appearing over the next four days.

The most onerous part was coming up with topics for the eight articles—and, trust me, it wasn’t exactly heavy-lifting. In fact, the mischievous part of me rather enjoyed it. I did no editing on the resulting articles beyond some formatting changes and a few slight tweaks to fit HumbleDollar’s style, such as turning “healthcare” into “health care.” None of this took much time. Indeed, if I didn’t take too many bathroom breaks, I figure I could have created and scheduled an entire month’s worth of articles in a single day.

Is there a personal-finance site that already does this? I don’t know. Should we be concerned about the possibility? In the articles I requested, I didn’t see any obviously wrong financial information.

Instead, I have a different concern: These AI engines are more than happy to create fabricated stories. Take a look at today’s article. I cooked up the whole stuck-in-an-elevator-with-Jack-Bogle scenario in my head, and the AI engines took the notion and ran with it.

Regular readers will know that HumbleDollar articles are frequently built around the financial experiences of the site’s writers. As I often tell contributors, “You may not be a personal-finance expert, but you are an expert on your own life.” Now, however, it seems we can substitute fiction for real-life experience. Should we be bothered? I am. But I may be in a minority. In fact, I love the Jack-in-the-elevator story. I just wish it were true.

When I started playing around with the AI engines, I toyed with having them generate a dozen articles, and then running them over the course of a week using fictitious bylines, to see if anybody would notice. I even considered creating a new contributor, and posting regular articles by him or her, to see if readers caught on.

But I didn’t do this—because I consider it unethical to pass off machine-written articles as penned by humans. Still, I suspect I could have got away with it.

I found that ChatGPT and Google Gemini were more likely to spit out the sort of articles that HumbleDollar publishes, while Microsoft Copilot resisted the personal journalism that this site is known for. That explains why just one of the eight articles you’ll see in the days ahead comes from Copilot.

Is there a role for AI in personal-finance journalism? I could see using AI to generate the first draft of articles, which would then be scrubbed to remove inaccurate or fictitious information. But I think good ethics would necessitate disclosing that the article’s first draft was created using AI. 

Ethics aside, are there any drawbacks to AI-generated articles? The writing style leaves a little to be desired, but I’m probably pickier than most.

In fact, I’ve tried using all three engines to “lightly edit” a few of the less polished article submissions I’ve received. I was most happy with the output from ChatGPT. Even then, in the “light” editing process, the writer’s voice tends to disappear.

Is AI some sort of existential threat? It doesn’t strike me that way. It’s a tool—one that’s new and hence generating lots of debate, but which will soon be as commonplace as cellphones and Alexa devices. Still, in my little world of personal-finance writing, AI undoubtedly offers the chance to behave badly. Humans being humans, I’m entirely confident that this temptation will prove irresistible to some.

Jonathan Clements is the founder and editor of HumbleDollar. Follow him on X @ClementsMoney and on Facebook, and check out his earlier articles.

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