Savor the irony

Now comes news (via Peter Kafka in All Things D and Jason Boog in Galleycat) that robot-written “stories” are turning up on the pages of Forbes and other publications. The robots are made by Narrative Science, which (says its About page) “started life as a joint research project at Northwestern University Schools of Engineering and Journalism.”

That Narrative Science reportedly has thirty customers already says more about the state of journals than it does about journalism. Tyler Durden in ZeroHedge may have the best, if not the last word:

Condolences to all financial journalists. If you thought your meager salary was crap, you are about to be replaced by a costless algorithm. The market you wrote about no longer needs you. But at least we will now have computers telling us all about how (seasonally adjusted) trends in financial journalism employment are improving.

Probably what is even sadder is that nobody noticed as more and more robots have taken over for humans.

… if a robot is reacting to a headline written by itself (and it is only a matter of time before Narrative Science is acquired by GETCO or some other HFT behemoth in the latest market manipulation scheme) the epic collapse possibilities are simply stupefying.

HT to @swardley.

8 comments

  1. gregorylent’s avatar

    just like factory-made food … with the same results to health

    only in america

  2. Banksy Eugords’s avatar

    Hooking the exhaust up to the intake.

  3. Matthew Battles’s avatar

    Financial journalism—hasn’t it always been made by robots?

  4. Sean Upton’s avatar

    Isn’t this happening in sports journalism already? I get the sense that early post-game summary copy by Stats, Inc. is robo-written.

  5. Doc Searls’s avatar

    I think in some categories, some stories almost write themselves, meaning they submit easily to algorithmic assembly. Sports and finance may be the two easiest targets for the likes of Narrative Science. The late askjesus.org pretty much did the same thing for (one) religion, turning any website with plain html into a surrealistic Christian version of itself.

  6. Todd’s avatar

    Doc,
    Last week at the O’Reilly Tools of Change Conference http://www.toccon.com/toccon12 there was a panel on “Scaling Content Development Through Automation”, which could be paraphrased simply as “How to get machines to do the writing instead of people”. It was an interesting discussion. Robbie Allen (Founder & CEO, Automated Insights, Inc.) and Kristian Hammond (CTO at Narrative Science) were the two speakers. Here’s a link to information about the panel: http://www.toccon.com/toc2012/public/schedule/detail/22086 You can view the presentations here: http://assets.en.oreilly.com/1/event/73/Scaling%20Content%20Development%20Through%20Automation%20Presentation.ppt

    The software behind these services is pretty cool, but reductionist. It’s a simple narrative writing based on well-formatted data. I’m not sure if the reflection that it is fairly easy for computers to do this, which is pretty cool, or whether it is sad how formulaic sports or financial reporting has become. My sense is that these types of software simply make it easy to fill up SEO spam sites with content. Then again, where does Forbes fall into that scale between intelligent well-researched content and (to be polite), “something less”.

    Hope to see you soon!

  7. Barbra @ Write a Bio’s avatar

    This is pathetic. I’m trying to fathom the reasoning behind this. If it’s to save money, then the poorer quality of writing will eventually catch up with the tactic.

  8. Barbra @ Write a Bio’s avatar

    Following up on Todd’s comment that “My sense is that these types of software simply make it easy to fill up SEO spam sites with content”, the Google Panda update made that type of content’ far less useful from even an SEO viewpoint.

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