Financial Times tests Ask FT, a chatbot trained on decades of its own articles

The Financial Times has a new generative AI chatbot called Ask FT that can answer questions its subscribers ask. Similar to generalized AI bots (like ChatGPT, Copilot, or Gemini), users can expect a curated natural language answer to whatever they want to know — but with answers derived from the outlet’s decades of published information rather than sources that are harder to explain or are subject to ongoing legal action. So don’t expect it to give you an answer for the best recipe for fettucini alfredo.

When we asked, “Who runs Microsoft’s AI products?” the tool returned an up-to-date answer and referenced news that broke this week about Microsoft hiring DeepMind co-founder Mustafa Suleyman as the head of its new AI team:

Mustafa Suleyman currently runs Microsoft’s consumer-facing AI products and division as the head of Microsoft AI, reporting directly to Satya Nadella [1,2,3]. He was brought in from Inflection AI to expand Microsoft’s focus on developing generative AI for personal consumer use [1,2,3,4,6].

The bracketed numbers correspond to the FT articles it pulled information from, which it lists beneath the answer. It also provides the time period when these articles were written. In the case of this Microsoft question, it says it pulled information ranging from March 1st, 2023, to March 20th, 2024.

We found inconsistencies with some answers, however. At the time of our testing, the tool included Nikki Haley in its answer to our question about who’s currently running for the 2024 US presidential election, even though she’d dropped out of the race already.

Screenshot by Emma Roth / The Verge

It’s available to a few hundred paid subscribers in the FT Professional tier, which is geared toward business professionals and institutions. Ask FT is currently powered by Claude, the large language model (LLM) developed by Anthropic, but that could change. In an interview with The Verge, FT chief product officer manager Lindsey Jayne says the outlet is “approaching this as ‘model agnostic’ and seeing which one meets our needs best.”

It can provide responses to questions about current events, like how much funding Intel received from the US government under the CHIPS Act, as well as broader queries, like the effect of cryptocurrency on the environment. The tool then gleans the FT’s archives and summarizes the relevant information with citations.

Ask FT will also answer questions that require deeper digging into the FT’s archives. When asked how YouTube started, it correctly responded that it was founded by Chad Hurley, Steve Chen, and Jawed Karim in February 2005.

“We did a whole bunch of testing internally and use that to refine how we instruct the model and how we construct the code,” Jayne says. “In this first group of 500, we are tracking every question and response, as well as the user’s feedback.”

Last year, we tried a similar tool deployed by the digital outlets owned by the marketing company Foundry, including Macworld, PCWorld, and Tech Advisor. However, at the time it wasn’t as useful as Ask FT is; my colleague Mia Sato found it provided inaccurate results to simple questions like when the last iPod Nano was released.

“I don’t think you’d get to be a 135-year-old institution if you aren’t constantly evolving and meeting these moments,” Jayne says. “But you have to be smart and not just get on the hype train … otherwise people just play with it for novelty and then go about their lives.”

Most subscribers won’t be able to try out the chatbot just yet. Ask FT will remain in beta for now, as the FT continues to test and evaluate it.

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