Is it time for journalists to be thinking about a new career?
Robowriters have all the consistencies humans lack. They don’t get sick leaves nor break times, they don’t complain, they don’t show up late, they never waste precious time and they don’t wait for mood to set in before their words start flowing.
Today, robojournalism has advanced to the point where these robots can actually ‘determine topic, tone, style, fact-generation, and lexicon’. The output can be just about any content. So not surprisingly, many companies and associations such as Société Générale, AP and L’Oreal have already been using and found robotic softwares very efficient in writing.
Programmatic bots and robotics look like they are bound to play a greater role in the publishing industry’s future than you might think. But, Mark Piesing, a freelance journalist and teacher based in Oxford, UK, tells us that humans shouldn’t worry the advent of robotic technology at all. His piece, “The Advent of Robojournalism and Robowriting”, posted in Publishing Perspectives, tells us details on how robotic technology is currently changing the configuration of publishing industry and its accompanying potential paradigm shift.
Was this story written by a robot?
Unless C-3PO was writing the story right next to you, or unless I cracked a joke, expressed an opinion or demonstrated some other form of human creativity such as an elegant turn of phrase, it might be a lot harder to tell than you’d think.
This isn’t solely a theoretical question either: in March 2014, within three minutes of a 4.7 magnitude earthquake occurring off the coast of California, a story had been written by a piece of software called Quakebot, approved by an editor and published online by the LA Times.
While this wasn’t the first time the LA Times had used a robot to write a story (or anyone else for that matter – a bot was being used to write weather forecasts in Canada as far back as the early 1990s), but last March seemed to be the moment when robot journalism stepped out of Hollywood and on to the high street. And journalists like me had to start taking a long hard look at our career plans as some commentators started to argue that in fact 90% of journalism read by the public will be written by robots in 2025.
Now media outlets including Yahoo and Associated Press use a piece of software called Wordsmith to write automated text — Yahoo for personalized, colorful commentary about every individual team, every week, in its Fantasy Sport series; and AP to churn out 4,400 quarterly earnings reports, a fifteen-fold increase on what it achieved using humans. Some big household names like Société Générale and L’Oreal are said to be already using robo-writing software called Yseop to produce documents such as company reports and even dialog with customers online. And they are the only ones willing to go public with it. In private many more companies like these are already using robo-writers, but are hiding behind non-disclosure orders out of fear perhaps of public reaction or, more likely, of losing their competitive advantage over their rivals.
These robot journalists work at superhuman speeds. The software program Yseop, uploaded to a customer’s server, can write 3,000 pages per second – vital speed in a world where he who publishes first gets the most hits. Wordsmith can write 2,000 articles every second.
And while the software salespeople tell journalists that they don’t have to worry about keeping their jobs because this software will in fact give them more time to focus on the interesting bits, their wide, shark-like grins suggest that journalism will soon join all the other professions that robots may take over.