Technology has been growing at a staggering pace for decades. Artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming the technological hallmark of our time. From learning algorithms that can learn to predict what we’re looking for online based on our behavior (past searches, etc.) to SIRI and now, self-driving cars, today we see the potential for the human element in daily activities being greatly reduced, if not removed entirely.
So what about the field of journalism? That’s a place you’d expect to be eternally peopled by, well…people. And yet, AI is slowly entering this space too. What does this development entail for the news world? Automation in journalism is still a very recent development, with the triumphs and disasters that come with anything new.
On the positive side, Reuters and Graphiq have teamed up to give publishers access to a database of interactive data visualizations that are constantly being updated with Graphiq’s algorithms, and Associated Press and Automated Insights have partnered to use AI to produce quarterly earnings reports of far greater output numbers with far fewer errors. On the downside, when Facebook turned over their “Trending Topics” to automation, the algorithm mistakenly promoted a false story – clearly highlighting that even automation needs some monitoring!
News Bots – Transforming Journalism as we know it?
From a purely information perspective, news is meant to be a narration of facts around an event, and the results and conclusions that arise accordingly. But as people who are putting that news together and arriving at those conclusions, it isn’t always possible to keep our biases out of it. Then there’s the usual debate over established fact vs. popular myth and hearsay. And that’s where news writing bots come into the picture.
With natural language programming techniques that allow AI machines to recognize basic storylines and create a readable copy with a natural flow, we already see repetitive content being generated by machines…and quickly at that! Extend that programming to include knowledge of how to lay out a story, and theoretically, there’s no reason a news bot can’t pull relevant data from all available sources and put together a piece built on corroborated fact and lacking all bias and conjecture. In an era abounding with quickly circulating clickbait and fake news (just ask Facebook!), this could be a development that takes journalism back to the absolute truth.
Another perspective is a transformation in how news is disseminated to the world. In addition to the large volumes that automation will allow, a major development that news bots can bring about is targeted news… very specifically targeted news. In the not too distant future, we could be looking at a time when, not only do we get the latest information on events, decisions, etc., we also get told exactly how each of these is going to affect us on an individual or community level. This kind of information breakdown and rebuilding to cater to a specific audience is something that is completely beyond human writers.
So here’s the big question – is AI going to one day render journalists obsolete? There’s no reason that should be the case. The argument for automation in journalism is that news bots can free up a lot of time and resources that go into fairly repetitive work, leaving journalists with slabs of time they can now devote to higher journalism – structured data will make stock and weather reports, sports results, etc. something that doesn’t need people anymore.
The above being true, the next step is then to see how AI can make a journalist’s product that much better. Think of all the massive sets of data that bots can analyze and extract real-time information and context from; when they can pick out subtle relationships that may elude even the most seasoned reporters, consider how much more investigative journalism can become!
It’s obvious that the news world is poised on the edge of great change; and as news agencies slowly (and responsibly) adopt the new tools becoming available, we can expect exciting developments in the way the world sees and understands “news”!