Robot Writer: next generation of journalists

“A shallow magnitude 4.7 earthquake was reported Monday morning five miles from Westwood, California, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The temblor occurred at 6:25 a.m. Pacific time at a depth of 5.0 miles…”

Earthquake. Image Credit: pixabay

The first news about the earthquake in Westwood was released by the Los Angeles Times only three minutes after the earthquake happened. The content of this news contains earthquake time, epicenter terrain, historical earthquakes, news source. It looks there is no difference with the news we read every day, but few people know that it is written by a robot writer.

What is a robot writer?

A robot writer is a kind of automated news generator which can automatically generate manuscript in the first time according to the algorithm. It can make analysis and judgment instantaneously and transfer important information and its interpretation in minutes to readers.

Robot.Image Credit: pixabay

The core technology behind robot writer is natural language processing which is to make the computer as intelligent as the human in understanding human language. The mainstream algorithm of current robot writer is template-based, which uses optimization methods to intelligently select different combinations of templates for news generation. The system will generate a template from the template database with this algorithm, and then the news text is generated based on the template, combined with other data sources.

Applications of robot writer

With the rapid development of technology, many media have begun to try to use computer programs to generate some reports, especially sports news.

In July 2014, the Associated Press reached an agreement with technology company Automated Insights to use their platform wordsmith to automatically generate corporate earnings. Based on the pre-edited writing structure, wordsmith can generate 150 to 300 words within few seconds. The system can produce nearly 4,000 corporate earnings per quarter, while the editors of the Associated Press can only write 400 earnings per quarter. In 2015, the Associated Press has expanded the scope of automated news generation to the sports sector. In June 2016, it tried to apply this technology to the report of baseball games.

Besides the Associated Press, the Washington Posts also sent a robot team to report the event in Rio Olympics games. The robot writer automatically formed a short message and release as an instant news, including the Olympic Games standings and medals standings.

Will robot writers replace journalists?

Automated writing software has been successfully applied in sports and finance fields because the reports in these areas are very “mechanized”, so it is very easy to find the pattern of reports by computer.

The advantage of robot writer is the writing speed, as it can generate huge amounts of texts in short time with given templates. However, the work of a journalist is quite complex. Because it needs insights and in-depth analysis for the news. It is hard for robot writer to master these skills just with templates. Currently, the knowledge of natural language processing is still not enough to build a robot writer to beat the journalists. While robot writer can help journalists organize basic information and data, then human journalists will have more time in the analysis of the news.

8 Responses to “Robot Writer: next generation of journalists”

  1. kangk1 says:

    Thanks for reading, Yang. This kind technology has been widely applied, but few people know them.

  2. kangk1 says:

    Yes, the artificial intelligence is changing our lifestyle. Some systems are already very intelligent. For example, Siri can help us shopping online. However, from the perspective of technology, they do not really understand what the meaning of our language. Some interesting facts are if Siri cannot find a good pattern to reply your question, they will make some jokes with you.

  3. kangk1 says:

    Thanks for reading, Jethro. Yes, the kind of technology is amazing. Some similar systems have been developed now, for example, poem generator is also a cool system:

  4. kangk1 says:

    Yes, with the development of Artificial Intelligence, it is harder to keep privacy. Information leakage has always been a controversial issue in data mining.

  5. Yang says:

    Hi Ke, wow, this is an amazing new technique that I’ve never heard before! Thanks for your good introduction!

  6. Heather Smillie says:

    Super interesting blog topic, great work!

    My only comfort in stories about robots/artificial intelligence taking over human tasks, is that at this point, they cannot do any higher level thinking, analysis or opinion writing.

    And if AI ever does reach that level of intelligence (and some people certainly believe it will), then I hope that we can value other humans enough to prefer their work, their thoughts, their emotions over that of an artificially intelligent robot.

  7. Jethro Hasoloan says:

    Hi king, it’s such a really interesting blog. I never thought that such Artificial Intelligence would be really useful in journalisms. This robot writing technology would be critical to scale up volume of news stories that would be impossible to provide manually!

  8. mwatchorn says:

    Given that systems like this learn from data we train them on, it would be interesting to see how complex a story needs to be before bias’ starts to appear in language choice.
    A lot of algorithms being created at the moment to reduce bias in decision making are being trained on data which was gathered by people with unconscious bias=biased algorithms.
    I suspect that the passion for time-saving algorithms will slow down as we become more aware of the risks associated with leaving an automated system to learn its own patterns.