Would you if a story you read in a newspaper or online, has been “written” by a machine rather than a stressed-out hack? Do you want to be able to know the difference? Welcome to the world of “robo journalism” – and it will come faster than you think.
Squirrelled away at the Press Association (PA) headquarters in London, is a small team of journalists and software engineers.
They are working on a computer system that can do the work of several human beings, gathering interesting local trends in the data – everything from crime statistics to how many babies are born out of wedlock.
In the framework of a trial, the palestinian authority has begun emailing selected computer-generated stories, no more than a few paragraphs in length, to the local newspapers who might want to use this type of equipment.
“We’ve just been sent samples of stories we’ve produced and they were using a reasonable number of them,” said Peter Clifton, editor-in-chief.
Sometimes, the man the journalists to rewrite or add to the algorithms of the “copy, but quite often,” said he, ” is published in extenso. Automated stories on smoking during pregnancy, the rate of recycling or cancel operations have all found their way online and in print.
This “robo-journalism” is becoming more and more popular across the world, newsrooms, as publishers struggle to cope with the decline of newspaper circulations, and the switch to online advertising.
Mr. Clifton hopes to be distributing 30,000 of these stories, each month, by the end of the month of April. The project, called Radar is a partnership with the City of Media and is funded by a â‚¬706,000 (Â£620,000) grant from Google.
But how much of a journalist of the workload can really be automated? And the jobs are ultimately at risk?A robot take your job?The Robots “take the 800 million jobs by 2030”
Mr. Clifton points out that, at this stage, the system only amplify the work of human journalists, some of whom are involved in the development of the production system. The automated part is currently limited to trawl through the data, something that would take humans much longer to do.
Nevertheless, the stories churned out by the machines are becoming more and more frequent, especially in the united states.
The LA Times’ earthquake alerts, based on data from the US Geological Survey (USGS), have been automated since 2014.Robot wrote Both breaking news
But the risks of these systems became clear last June, when the newspaper published a report about an earthquake of magnitude 6.8 off the coast of California – it was in fact a recording of the 1925 earthquake that had been published by the USGS in the error.
The LA Times automated story had appeared just a minute after the USGS released its obsolete report. In this case, being first to the news was certainly a downside.Earthquake alarm sounded – 92 years late
The odd hiccup has not managed to dissuade the publishers, however.
The Washington Post announced last year that it would begin publishing automated stories about high school American football games.
“The stories will be automatically updated each week using the box to mark the data submitted by the high school football coaches,” an article on the scheme explained.
In 2017, the research revealed that of the thousands of stories a month are now produced in European newsrooms, with the help of algorithms.
The investigation, of the University of Oxford Reuters Institute of Journalism, has found that many publishers are using the automation of the release of interesting data quickly – from the results of the election of the official figures on social issues.
There are other uses, however. An agency in The netherlands uses an algorithm to rewrite the stories with simpler language, for a thread of information for the children.
While productive, the majority of these systems are not too sophisticated, concluded the report’s author Alexander Fanta, and then to the Austrian Press Agency.
But more advanced tools are in the works.
Tencent, the Chinese tech giant behind the messaging application, recently demonstrated a system that could write a report on a speech automatically. Editor-in-chief of the news website Quartz, Zach Seward, had one of his speeches at a conference, written in this way – and he was impressed.
Image Copyright @zseward
China’s state press agency, Xinhua, is now reorganized to increase the use of AI.
But could I really take on more tasks traditionally carried out by human journalists, such as telephone interviews with subjects?
“There might be such a thing as a robot reporter to call the relatives of a deceased person and ask them how they feel,” said Mr. Fanta, referring to “death strikes” calls, sometimes controversial, but often an important task for journalists.
“You could script it, but I guess the question is, do you really want?”
Instead, he sees the automation of more and more become just another tool in the journalist’s toolbox – a potential “prosthetic arm” for journalists who, in the future, could systematically script algorithms using the source of stories or producing content.
But is there not a danger that such information is automatically generation of tools can also be used by the propagandists wanted to spread false news for their own political or national goals? There is already evidence that the automation has been used for such purposes on the social media sites.
“There is a genuine concern of the automation facilitates this kind of attacks to freedom of expression,” says Mr. Fanta.
The BBC does not currently publish stories that have been generated by algorithms, says Robert McKenzie, editor-in-chief of the company’s New research Laboratories of the team.
But the new Labs has been working on tools to automate other parts of journalists, of jobs, he said, including “transcription of interviews and the identification of unusual trends in the data public”.More Technology of Business
May of the “light nutrition” help us beat the January blues?
Meet the midwife backpack ” providing health care for all
Will we ever be able to trust driverless cars?
The business of insurance is ‘in a mad panic” as cyber-attacks soar
While the AI is undoubtedly going to become more and more present in the newsrooms, Joshua Benton of Harvard University’s Nieman Journalism Lab does not think this poses serious threats for employment. There are much greater pressures, such as falling advertising revenues, he believes.
And he also said it is more difficult and more highly scrutinized part of what professional journalists do – carefully weighing the information and the presentation balanced, contextualized stories – will be very hard for machines to master.
“Good journalism is not just a question of inputs and outputs, there is a profession that, although imperfect, has evolved over the decades,” he says.
“I’m not saying that machines will never get there, but I think they are still pretty far away.”Follow the Company’s Technology editor Matthew Wall on Twitter and Facebook
Click here for more of the Technology features for Companies