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Sports personalities Jamela Alindogan, Noli Eala, and more react to GMA's AI-powered sportscasters

By John Patrick Magno Ranara Published Sep 26, 2023 2:02 pm Updated Sep 26, 2023 2:23 pm

Several sports personalities have given their two cents regarding GMA News’ very first artificial intelligence-generated sportscasters that have since sparked controversy online.

The broadcasting giant recently created quite a buzz online when it introduced Maia and Marco, the new "courtside reporters" made by AI that are tasked with giving updates about the NCAA Season 99 men’s basketball tournament.

Despite GMA News' big step in utilizing technology in their reports, the use of AI instead of hiring actual people to serve as sportscasters didn't sit right with many social media users, who regarded it as "unsettling" as it may pave the way for people to be replaced by technology.

Some professionals in the sports industry have also taken the time to comment on the media network's disputed decision.

Technology is just a tool

Al Jazeera broadcast journalist Jamela Aisha Alindogan, who previously worked at ABS-CBN as a sportscaster, penned a lengthy post recalling her days as a newbie in the world of sports journalism.

"I was barely 19 years old when they hired me as a sportscaster, specifically as a courtside reporter for the University Athletic Association of the Philippines," Alindogan wrote. "My first day on the job had my heart racing. The Araneta Coliseum was packed with screaming fans, university drums, cheerleaders, and athletes running everywhere."

Alindogan went on to emphasize the difficulties and challenges of being a sports reporter out in the field, noting that it can be a "lion's den depending on how the game's going."

"I learned to read the mood in a room; we were toughened by the experience," she wrote. "Sports coverage is incredibly emotional, reporters/ anchors must learn how to capture the essence of human endeavor—victory, defeat, the relentless struggle to represent and to become something greater."

Because of this, she questioned how media networks and organizations "are often the first to make colleagues and future talents redundant."

"Avatars can have the perfect eyebrows, the perfect hair and the perfect skin… and even kung gusto mo…. any accent you want. British? American? Why not? But it’s not the same," Alindogan stressed.

"Technological tools should remain just that—mere tools. I read this somewhere… Artificial journalism. More than an oxymoron; I think it's an abomination. Now more than ever, we should aim for 'boots on the ground' journalism," she added.

The University of the Philippines' Broadcasting Association echoed Alindogan's views in a statement, noting that technologies "should not, in any way, replace and displace the people who have spent years in the study and practice of broadcasting."

"The UP Broadcasting Association firmly believes that this move does very little to serve the people as it only sets an alarming precedent that would profoundly impact the future of broadcasting and those who aspire to be in this industry," they stated.

"If GMA truly aims to promote inclusivity in their reporting, they should instead focus their efforts and resources on hiring and properly compensating talented journalists and media workers. [T]echnologies that do not put humans in the center are no innovation at all," they added.

Artificial vs. real

Former Philippine Sports Commission chairman Noli Eala, another veteran sportscaster, had similar antagonistic views towards GMA's AI-powered reporters and joked about how the technology may one day "take over the world."

"While clearly we have to embrace progress, I wonder how personal and intimate reports can be as compared to the ones given by our local sportscasters. I’m still a traditionalist. I say NAY!" he wrote on X (formerly Twitter).

Maia and Marco also left a bitter taste in the mouth of Mark Zambrano, another prominent sports commentator in the Philippines, who noted that such avatars can never replicate the passion exuded by real-life sportscasters.

"I have nothing against technology and how it makes things easier for humans to do things. But for someone who devoted a lifetime to developing my craft as a sports commentator and host, this alarms me," he wrote.

He emphasized, "This may add aesthetic appeal as a novelty but heart and soul in sports broadcast is invaluable in bringing the best experience to viewers. The human element is non-negotiable."

Not intended to replace

With all the backlash, GMA Network Senior Vice President Oliver Amoroso stood in defense of the AI-powered sportscasters, explaining that they were not intended to replace real-life reporters.

"The special participation of our AI sportscasters are just part of the exciting plans we have for NCAA Season 99. Maia and Marco were introduced to complement, not replace, the human aspect of our coverage," Amoroso stated in a report by 24 Oras.

He assured that Maia and Marco are merely "AI presenters" and not journalists as they can't replace the seasoned broadcasters in the organization.

"While we are for innovation, we also value training and upskilling our employees so they could be empowered in this age of AI," Amoroso said.