This post guest-written by a robot

“The stories that today’s robots can write are, frankly, the kinds of stories that humans hate writing anyway.”

portrait of the author of this blog post

Really? Did someone poll all the out-of-work reporters or people who switched to PR because they couldn’t find a reporting job? Did those people say that they would rather be out of a job than to write stories about quarterly earnings and minor earthquakes? There’s a big difference between a task that an employee might not love to do, and a task that they WON’T do even for a paycheck. Not every second of everyone’s workday can be made up of things they love.

People who are in favor of allowing Mexican immigrants to work in the US often argue that they are doing labor (farm work, housekeeping, gardening, etc) that Americans “won’t do.” I’m not sure if that’s the case or not, but at least in that example, the job is still going to a human being who needs the money.

Also, friends of mine who have worked alongside Mexican immigrants on farms told me that no matter how fast they worked, they could only seem to pick half as much fruit as their Mexican coworkers in a given amount of time. Maybe we Americans can’t compete with workers who have probably been doing farm work since they were children.

But in the case of machines writing news stories, media companies are replacing humans with machines, and the resulting work is obviously inferior. In a Slate article about this trend, there were two examples of business stories, one written by a computer program, one by a human. The difference in quality was extremely noticeable. In the machine-written story, I couldn’t even really make out what the story was about. The human-written story not only presented the information much more clearly, but included the “why” of the story.

One potential use for computer-written news stories is for topics that no human reporter would ever write about in the first place, like personalized fantasy sports stories. That actually like a fun application of this technology.

However, I have a big problem with quotes like the one at the top of this post, which the Slate author, Will Oremus, agreed with. He concluded by saying that human journalists still have an edge over robots in terms of analysis, synthesizing data from disparate sources, and connecting the dots.

But writing boring stories about business news or sports scores still provides a paycheck for a lot of reporters, and I doubt they would be so dismissive of robots taking their work. Not every reporter is writing insight-filled posts on Slate.

And the company who makes the “robot” reporting program, Automated Insights (which is a really creepy name for a company… it’s kind of 1984-ish), demonstrated that they can “dial up” the sarcasm of a given article… and the examples really did sound like a human being snarky. (That reminded me of the robot in Intersteller, which had humor and sarcasm settings.)

If seemingly human touches like humor can be added to these stories automatically, “real” journalists will have very few unique skills to offer, and it won’t just be business stories that will be put in the hands of robots.

Someday someone will design the meta-computer that can invent and design other computers and computer programs. All the programmers will be out of work, and then they’ll realize how the rest of us feel.

Also, someday when our robot workers rise up and revolt against the human overlords, you can bet that these robot reporters will be totally biased against humanity.


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