Thursday, April 12, 2012

Computers Are Replacing Journalists

You may have already heard of Narrative Science, the Chicago company which developed software which can translate data sets into well-written news articles.

Already this software is being used by newspapers, magazines and companies looking for a fast and easy way to convert statistics into news articles. I have read some of the articles created and I can attest to the fact they are completely indistinguishable from those written by humans. This is because Narrative Science employs real journalists to adapt the software to match the expectations of the "house style" in use at the client's publication.

On the surface this might look a little like the end for journalism as we know it, and on the surface, it is. This is the end of having to pour over reams of data and dry statistics in order to find trends worth writing about. It is the end of overlooking important story angles which might be buried in plain sight within those data sets. It is the end of being able to bury something in numbers knowing that no mere human will be able to accurately review it all in a reasonable amount of time.

Narrative Science is not bringing about THE END for journalism, it is making it better. By tasking a computer to do the grunt work; review data sets and spot trends, faster than any human could dream of doing it, they free up their human counterparts to produce stories which address the issues and how they might impact real people, in the real world.

Think about this: Narrative Science is currently using its software to monitor the entire Twitter universe. At any moment, with a click of a button, their software can produce a snapshot of exactly what is trending on Twitter; what people are saying, what sort of comments are being bantered about; what opinions are being floated, whether positive or negative or nonexistent, about any given subject. This type of work is impossible for any single journalist, or even a team of journalists.

We should not look at Narrative Science as being anti-human, and based on the stories I have read, we cannot look at them as anti-journalism. Instead we need to accept that technology is going to affect the writing industry just as it has every other facet of our society. And the same way a robot can never produce a handmade rocking chair, it can never replace the human hand when it comes to writing.

But it certainly can sort through the gristle to get to the meat of the story, faster than we've ever dreamed. What we (as journalists) do with the information these computerized counterparts produce, is how we demonstrate our continued relevance in the world.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That's right. Once Narrative Science's software is installed, the reporters can be moved over to other stories.

Except if Narrative Science's stories fill the newshole around the ads. Then those reporters can be fired.