Are Robots Taking Over Journalism?

Are Robots taking over Journalism?

At the Digital Journalism World Summit 2015 (11-12 May 2015, One Farrer Hotel & Spa, Singapore), Hille van der Kaa of Fonty’s School of Applied Sciences will discuss how robot journalism and automated reporting systems are becoming more relevant, and how to integrate the new technologies available in news agencies.

It’s not a stretch to think about. In a society that has come to accept the “Robot Revolution” as an alternative ending to life as we know it, robots that help generate the news we consume is not such a far-fetched idea. In fact, AP ran an article discussing this just two months ago: their article “Apple tops Street 1Q forecasts” was generated entirely by a robot well versed in AP’s Style Guides. Forbes’ “Narrative Science” writer has also been making waves with its generation of economic news articles, and The LA Times used a robot to report an earthquake in 2013.

Two years is a long time in technology, so it’s about time we asked: what exactly is robot journalism, and how does it work?

To put it simply, an algorithm is used to consolidate data into a news article. In the case of AP, the article is generated following the rules of the AP Style Guide. In a small-scale study described in Wired, two groups of undergraduates were asked to rate and describe a news article written by a flesh-and-blood journalist, and one written by a robot. They were not told which article was written by whom (or by what) and the results were quite surprising.

The journalist’s article scored well on being “well written, clear and pleasant” to read, whilst the robot’s article scored highly on being “descriptive, informative, more accurate, trustworthy, and objective.” When subjects were asked which article was written by a person versus a robot, the answers were vague. 10 out of 27 undergraduates who had read the article written by a robot felt that the journalist wrote it, whilst 10 out of 18 undergraduates who read the journalist’s article believed it to be written by software.

Is it fair to say that most people can’t tell the difference between something written by a human or a robot? Based on the small sample size and end results – perhaps not. Articles written by automatic storytellers do come with errors, and will have to be reviewed and amended before being published. There is also enough information out there to support that robots journalists will complement reporters in the search for better, cleaner content to incorporate in news articles – in other words, that no jobs will be lost in favor of these robots.

With the software and algorithms used to create these articles only improving with time, we’re sure that the era of robots in journalism is just beginning, and that people should sit up and take notice.

Hille van der Kaa, a Professor of Future Media at Fonty’s School of Applied Sciences, will discuss this at the Digital Journalism World conference on 11 May in Singapore. She will outline the latest developments in the field of automated storytelling, and give an in-depth look at how the top news media have been using robots to automate news generation, harvest live data sets and collect data in violent scenarios.

Find out what the key rules are to dealing with automated storytellers and bots, and why you need to be on top of this dynamic change. Register yourself and your team for #DJW15 today.