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The BBC to Use AI to Publicise Doctor Who — And We’re Absolutely Disgusted

The BBC has seriously messed up, but instead of admitting its mistake, it’s simply deleted its post — a post which announced that it plans to use generative AI to automate promotional content, including of Doctor Who.

Doctor Who would be one of the first shows used as an experiment that would see AI-generated marketing: essentially, the headlines would be written by humans but the actual articles would be made by Large Language Models (LLMs), i.e. artificial intelligence.

On 7th March 2023, the BBC Media Centre pushed an article with a quote from David Housden, the BBC’s Head of Media Inventory: Digital, which read:

“We’re going to take it one step a time, starting simple and learning as we go. We have chosen to start with Doctor Who, as it is a joint content priority for both BBC Public Service UK and BBC Studios marketing teams. There’s a rich variety of content in the Whoniverse collection on iPlayer to test and learn with, and Doctor Who thematically lends itself to AI which is a bonus.”

The phrase “Doctor Who thematically lends itself to AI” is startingly ignorant of both the show and the sci-fi genre as a whole.

Damage control extended to “reassurance” that all AI content would be checked over by a human, i.e. someone high-up in the marketing echelons. It seems that “lowly” writers are replaceable; managerial and editorial roles, however, aren’t — at least, that’s what we’ve inferred from that naïve statement from the BBC.

Shortly after the news was published, outrage from fans resulted in the article being deleted — replaced by a webpage which states “Sorry, we couldn’t find that page” — though the BBC is yet to respond to fans or the media at the time of writing. Frankly, we don’t know whether this is still the plan, but we wouldn’t be shocked if they just quietly continue using LLMs without announcing intentions.

The BBC obviously is reinforcing its hierarchy and making sure creative types are put in their place. If we let it, AI will stunt us, take our jobs, and make life a misery. What the BBC is likely doing is, seeing AI coming into use and trying to get ahead of the curve (and we say this because it’s certainly not the only outlet doing so; we’ve experience of others doing it already and I’ve turned down job opportunities that would’ve seen me editing the “work” of artificial intelligence). The institution will say it’s adapting to this rising sector. But it is not: it’s abandoning its ethics.

And let’s be clear here: the DWC will never knowingly publish any article generated by AI; if it turns out that a press release has been made by AI and we’ve published it, we’ll delete it and not bother reporting on the news, no matter how big or small it may be. The line in the sand is more important than a TV show. I think the Doctor would approve of that sentiment too.

We’re not going to trot out more quotes from Housden or the BBC right now because they’re trying to excuse the inexcusable. This isn’t Housden’s fault; he’s the head of a department that’s being forced into a corner, and the BBC should know better. If you do want to read more about this disgraceful state of affairs, CultBox has handily saved quotes from the article before the BBC backtracked.

Either way, the BBC has a long way to go to earn our trust again.

Philip Bates

Editor and co-founder of the Doctor Who Companion. When he’s not watching television, reading books ‘n’ Marvel comics, listening to The Killers, and obsessing over script ideas, Philip Bates pretends to be a freelance writer. He enjoys collecting everything. Writer of The Black Archive: The Pandorica Opens/ The Big Bang, The Silver Archive: The Stone Tape, and 100 Objects of Doctor Who.

The BBC to Use AI to Publicise Doctor Who — And We’re Absolutely Disgusted

by Philip Bates time to read: 2 min
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