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Laura Sposato

Robotic Journalists

by Laura Sposato

Robots revolutionized the automobile industry.  Surgeons are beginning to trust robotic hands more than their own.  The military has begun using droids in combat, and very few of us can say we have been to the grocery store and not used the quick, robot assisted, self-check-out when in a hurry.  Whether we realize it or not, robots are persistently becoming common place in society.  What some journalists fail to realize is that they are already working alongside these machines in the newsroom.

Narrative Science began as a research project at the Northwestern University Schools of Engineering and Journalism.  According to their website, the goal was to transform data into insight and stories.  It worked.  The first robot reported story launched in 2010, and it was on a Northwester Wildcats baseball game.

Since then, robots have reported more stories than the public realizes.  According to an article by Steven Levy on Wired, the reports these machines are spitting out actually have a few humanistic traits.  Last year there were 400,000 accounts of Little League games being reported by these mechanical journalists, the article by Levy said.

Below are two excerpts from articles reporting on little league baseball.  One was written by a human, and the other was written by a robot.  Can you tell which one is which?

  1. Friona fell 10-8 to Boys Ranch in five innings on Monday at Friona despite racking up seven hits and eight runs. Friona was led by a flawless day at the dish by Hunter Sundre, who went 2-2 against Boys Ranch pitching. Sundre singled in the third inning and tripled in the fourth inning … Friona piled up the steals, swiping eight bags in all…
  2. The Braves started off the bottom of the second inning trailing by 6. Their bats rallied, however, allowing them to come closer to filling the gap by scoring three quick runs. Despite an impressive triple that bounced off the right field fence by Jesse Eaton, the Rangers were held to a scoreless third inning.

The second article was written by Pahrump Valley Times reporter Courtney Renee; the first was written by the cold, metal hand of an artificial intellect. Could you tell?

Articles written by robots are being run on notable news organizations.  “Michael Calderon, Big Ten’s director of new media, tells Bloomberg Businessweek. After a game, scorekeepers e-mail game data to Narrative Science, which feeds it into a computer and spits out a story in minutes,” reported an article by MSNBC depicting the nine jobs that will soon be replaced by robots. The article went on to explain that not only is this process quicker, but it is also cheaper.

As efficient and widely used as these robots are, there is still large percent of people who feel the journalism industry is in no threat.  Go ahead, take a sigh of relief.

Writing down the interview

Dramatized imagination of the future of robotic journalism.

“A story that moves us most tells details – the twitches, the smell of a person, their ticks. It understands irony, subtlety, nuance. Words are not just ink on a page and pixels on a screen,” said author of the blog journomel.com, Mel C.

So robots are already producing stories for print and the web, but they have yet to seen actually delivering the news on air.  Broadcast journalists, go ahead and take another sigh of relief.  Who is to say that the idea may not be far off, though.  We already have Siri, robots answering phone calls for us, giving us directions and entertaining us.  Why couldn’t the next step be perfecting the voice of a robot?

An idea that’s even closer is the fact that a sports journalist could become nothing more than your average reporter.  If you can read the script a robot provides you, who’s to say a network would value your vast knowledge of the sport’s world when a robot can tell the story in better, quicker, more accurate detail.  In a sense, robots could be the reason trained sport’s journalists transition into journalists who simply deliver a sports story.


About chrisclabaugh

I'm a downtown Phoenix student who loves acting and performing. I want to end up on the big screen. Or the small screen. Or both. Yeah, let's go with both.


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