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…”
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.
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.