by Dan Balow
Since most readers of this blog are writers, this might just ruin your day.
A company called Narrative Science started as a research project with Northwestern University computer science and journalism students. (The Medill School of Journalism is arguably the best in the country) It was called StatsMonkey.
StatsMonkey was a computer program that automatically generated a usable text recap of a baseball game pulling data from a simple baseball box-score. A newspaper story written by a computer actually worked well…really well.
An initial round of funding in 2010 started the ball rolling and today, Narrative Science (www.narrativescience.com) employs top programmers who have built an entirely new artificial intelligence writing platform called Quill.
They have won awards, they have numerous top clients using the service to generate news reports, social-media posts and other various quick generated communication and recently received another $11.5 million in additional investment.
Any news story or piece of communication derived from a table of data or information can be quickly turned into a news story without human involvement. They even use algorithms for “tone” so the difference between a human writing it and the computer is almost imperceptible.
Sports results, financial data, weather, traffic, etc…anything that is primarily based on organized pieces of information being assembled into a report where speed is of the essence is a candidate for Quill. Companies from all over are embracing it.
It’s called “robo-writing” and it is all around us and you probably don’t even know it. This is not the “put 50 monkeys in a room of typewriters and give them enough time to write a classic” kind of thing. Most likely most of the news feeds you receive on your smart phone or social media sites are generated from robo-writers.
Of course, this means that entry-level journalism jobs will be replaced by a machine, or at least altered dramatically. That’s progress for you.
At the very least, this tells us something about our present world and where we are headed in the future. Jobs will be increasingly defined by the level of interface with technology. And, I am sorry to break it to you, but we won’t go back to the way things used to be.
Is this something to be feared? Absolutely not, unless your job is writing information-based articles quickly for minimum wage.
At a digital conference in 2012, I recall a discussion about whether or not a “robo-writer” could write a novel. Everyone laughed, except for the software engineers, who rubbed their chins, smiled and stared, thinking there was a new challenge to tackle.