Something funky is going on at Sports Illustrated—several of their authors don’t seem to exist.
According to an investigation by Futurism, the illustrious sports magazine lately seems to be relying on work produced by artificially generated journalists, who sometimes publish artificially generated articles, as well.
“Drew has spent much of his life outdoors, and is excited to guide you through his never-ending list of the best products to keep you from falling to the perils of nature,” read the bio of Drew Ortiz, one of the publication’s new robot stowaways. “Nowadays, there is rarely a weekend that goes by where Drew isn’t out camping, hiking, or just back on his parents’ farm.”
Ortiz, however, has no social media presence and no publishing history outside of Sports Illustrated. One thing the son of a farmer and allegedly avid hiker does have going for him, however, is a profile picture harvested from a website selling A.I.-generated headshots, according to Futurism’s Maggie Harrison, who confirmed with several sources at Sports Illustrated that Ortiz’s content was fabricated.
Ortiz is apparently not the only digital apparition hard at work in their newsroom.
“There’s a lot,” one anonymous source told Futurism regarding the fake authors. “I was like, what are they? This is ridiculous. This person does not exist.”
Over the summer, Ortiz’s account vanished, and in its wake the author’s byline suddenly redirected to a new A.I.-generated writer with no social media presence, no publishing history, and a profile picture from the same A.I.-photo marketplace: someone named Sora Tanaka.
None of these changes came with editor’s notes or corrections explaining the switch-up. What’s more, Harrison’s inquiry was met with a puzzling response: “After we reached out with questions to the magazine’s publisher, the Arena Group,” Harrison reports, “all the AI-generated authors disappeared from Sports Illustrated’s site without explanation.”
Sports Illustrated is not the only publication that’s gotten caught dipping its toes into the murky, plagiarism-laden waters of A.I.-generated content. In January, CNET was caught red-handed publishing A.I.-generated articles containing what have been charitably referred to as “very dumb errors.” In August, newspaper giant Gannett opted to pause its own A.I. experiments when it became clear their bot had no idea how to describe a high school football game. (It’s still unclear if the national publication is still utilizing A.I. for product reviews.) The U.K.-based publications The Daily Mirror and The Express also began publishing artificially generated content in 2023, though their owner says they’re not looking to fire their journalists anytime soon.
Meanwhile, the media industry cut more than 17,000 jobs in 2023 alone—a record number—thanks in large part to dwindling subscriptions and a slow ad market. Losses were felt at some of the industry’s largest and sometimes revolutionary players, including the Los Angeles Times, Buzzfeed, VICE, Vox Media, NPR, and The Washington Post. We may never know what, if anything, Drew Ortiz thinks about that—or anything else.