Monday, September 12, 2011

Will Computers Replace Writers? (Looks As If They Already Have)

You may not be aware of this, but an Illinois based company has been using computer program to write stunningly good sports stories for more than a year now.
The stories produced by the program designed by the company, Narrative Science, are indistinguishable from those written by living breathing reporters. Editors are unable to tell the difference and in tests, usually prefer the prose composed by the computer to those created by human hands and minds.

This effort is designed to help publishing companies faced with declining budgets maintain an ample supply of stories. Feed in a few facts and the program devises an entire story, including finding angles that make sense and composes lead paragraphs that grab the reader's attention.

So far Narrative Science has nabbed more than two dozen companies. These are companies which are using a computer program in place of a human writer. Much the same way automotive companies replaced human workers with robot welders and assemblers.

It is also believed this research will lead to thinking machines; robots which are better able to communicate and interact with their human controllers.

In the meantime, we are learning that humans no longer control the domain of creativity. When a computer can be taught to control the written word as well as a human there is cause for writers everywhere to be alarmed.

Not that this spells the end of the writing industry. Human beings are nothing if not unique. And it is this uniqueness, this ability to interpret and refine everything we see, hear, think and feel and to then communicate this information in ways which are, well, uniquely human.
After all, when threatened with obsolescense, John Henry used a hammer to beat a steam driven machine...
The Narrative Science software can make inferences based on the historical data it collects and the sequence and outcomes of past games. To generate story "angles", explains Mr Hammond of Narrative Science, the software learns concepts for articles like "individual effort", "team effort", "come from behind", "back and forth", "season high", "player's streak" and "rankings for team". Then the software decides what element is most important for that game, and it becomes the lead of the article, he said. The data also determines vocabulary selection. A lopsided score may well be termed a "rout" rather than a "win".

"Composition is the key concept," Mr Hammond says. "This is not just taking data and spilling it over into text."

Later last year, the Big Ten Network began using Narrative Science for updates of football and basketball games. Those reports helped drive a surge in referrals to the website from Google's search algorithm, which highly ranks new content on popular subjects, Mr Calderon says. The network's web traffic for football games last season was 40 per cent higher than in 2009.

Hanley Wood, a trade publisher for the construction industry, began using the program in August to provide monthly reports on more than 350 local housing markets, posted on its site, The company had long collected the data, but hiring people to write trend articles would have been too costly, says Andrew Reid, president of Hanley Wood's digital media and market intelligence unit.
Read the rest of the article on Narrative Science by clicking here.

1 comment:

Yawning Enthusiast said...

It's a question of quantity versus quality.