Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Android Meme Creates & Writes It’s Own Content

New York Magazine
By Kevin Roose

Earlier this week, one of my business-beat colleagues got assigned to recap the quarterly earnings of Alcoa, the giant metals company, for the Associated Press. The reporter’s story began:

“Alcoa Inc. (AA) on Tuesday reported a second-quarter profit of $138 million, reversing a year-ago loss, and the results beat analysts' expectation. The company reported strong results in its engineered-products business, which makes parts for industrial customers, while looking to cut costs in its aluminum-smelting segment.”

It may not have been the most artful start to a story, but it got the point across, with just enough background information for a casual reader to make sense of it. Not bad. The most impressive part, though, was how long the story took to produce: less than a second.

That impossible-sounding deadline was possible because the AP’s story wasn’t written by a person at all. It was the product of a piece of software — a robot, really — created by a Durham, North Carolina-based company called Automated Insights. The AP announced last month that it would use Automated Insights' software, called Wordsmith, to produce up to 4,440 robot-written corporate-earnings reports per quarter, more than ten times the number its human reporters currently produce.

When Alcoa’s earnings report hit the wire that day, the data was instantly compiled by a firm called Zacks Investment Research and passed through the AP's proprietary algorithm, which pulled out key numbers and phrases and matched them against other contextual information. In milliseconds, the software produced a full story written in AP style, indistinguishable from one made with human hands.

The Los Angeles Times has even built automated earthquake-reporting software, which was put to the test earlier this year.

Robots discover the pen is mightier than the sword.
Photo: Paramount/Splash

If You Don't Think Robots Can Replace Journalists, Check Out This Article Written By A Computer

A Billion Stories This Year
Last year, Automated Insights’ Wordsmith software, produced 300 million stories (9.5 stories per second) — more than every other media outlet in the world combined. This year, Wordsmith is expected to work even harder — producing more than a billion stories. Few of these will be gripping reads. Most will be sports recaps, personalized financial reports, or other commodified, just-the-facts types of news. But together, they’ll make up the biggest feat of news production in the history of the world. More isn’t necessarily better, of course, but there’s something to knowing that whatever obscure sports team you’re following, whichever esoteric stock you’re curious about, there will be a full, readable report waiting for you, instantly, at every turn.

Robot/Human Hybrid Stories
Ken Doctor, an independent analyst who studies the news industry, predicts that in the future robots won’t just be reporters’ competitors. They’ll collaborate with us by preparing data-dense paragraphs that we can then supplement with our own analysis, producing a hybrid story that’s better than our human efforts alone.

Robots could extend to other types of news. TV recaps, aggregated blog posts, sports analysis, political campaign coverage, BuzzFeed listicles — all of these could, conceivably, be automated. The robots could even make inroads into PR and communications. According to Robbie Allen (the CEO of Automated Insights and a former Cisco engineer), several political organizers, including some former Obama campaign staffers, have already reached out to Automated Insights about using Wordsmith to create personalized voter outreach emails.

Artificial Intelligence Will Write Bestseller Fiction In The Future

Robots make our jobs easier and more fun. We should be celebrating the rise of machines that can supplement and assist us in our jobs, while doing the most banal parts of our workloads for us.

After all, if we wanted to do something mindless and repetitive with our lives, we’d have become robots.

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