Machines Take Over Journalism
Published: Thursday, May 3, 2012
Updated: Thursday, May 3, 2012 11:05
I suppose it’s time to throw in the towel. The machines have won. Soon we’ll all be plugged into an alternate reality, with Keanu Reeves dodging bullets in slow motion while the rest of us are harvested for energy.
At least that seems to be the next step as computer programs that write news stories are being built.
Automated news writing services are starting to pop up — especially in finance and sports journalism — as a cheaper and more efficient way to produce stories.
Companies such as Narrative Science and Automated Insights have developed software that is adept at taking massive amounts of data and turning them into a few short, understandable paragraphs.
What’s worse is that the stories the program churns out in half a minute read like human reports. It’s a scary concept, especially to a journalism student. As if the industry we’re looking to enter wasn’t already in danger. Now, what few jobs are left in journalism could be going to computers.
Kristian Hammond, the cofounder of Narrative Science, said he predicted that 90 percent of news stories would be written by computers in 15 years in a recent story published in “Wired.”
My math skills aren’t great, but I believe that leaves 10 percent of stories for us human writers. And if we extrapolate that exponential curve for the next 50 years, it would seem that virtually all news stories will be written by a computer and I might have some trouble paying off my student loans.
The bad news doesn’t end there. The algorithm can be trained to write in different tones of voice. Snarky blogger? Check. Straight laced business reporter? Check. Loud and annoying Fox News journalist? Check.
Hammond predicted that a computer would win a Pulitzer within five years. Then what? An Oscar for a T-1000 that’s trying to kill John Connor? Will HAL win a Grammy for his performance of “Daisy Bell” after terminating the crew of the Discovery One?
Automated writing services open up Pandora’s Box and I don’t even mean just for journalism. If a computer writes the next “Great Gatsby,” is it art? If computers can analyze data and turn it into a narrative thought process, where is the line between human and machine?
If computers can turn raw data into a story in a matter of seconds, the science behind these companies could be used to make fast and brilliant insights in plenty of industries.
A computer could theoretically manage a company — determining where improvement needs to be made or finding and even praising the top performers.
For now though, it seems like journalists are the only one’s whose job is on the line. Narrative Science is focused on journalism. Even then, the algorithm is still best suited for data driven reporting such as sports and finances. And beyond that, the algorithm is currently used to cover what journalists aren’t, such as little league baseball games.
Still, I think I might just stick to the blue pill. I don’t think I want to know how deep the rabbit hole goes.
Matthew Rupel is a junior communication major and editor in chief of The Santa Clara.