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A couple of years ago, National Public Radio (NPR) broke a story about how low-paid, outsourced “content prov...
A couple of years ago, National Public Radio (NPR) broke a story about how low-paid, outsourced “content providers” have replaced journalists at newspapers across the United States, particularly when it comes to local news. That article about the Houston school board appointees you just read with mild interest? It very well could have been written by a single mother in the Philippines with a fake by-line and no connection whatsoever to the newspaper or the community in which the story takes place. This complete divorce of the news from the reporter is largely the creation of content provider/journalism outsourcing firm Journatic.
As depressing and creepy as Journatic’s shadowy brand of outsourced sweatshop journalism may be, things are about to get even weirder. Not only is local US news being reported by microserfs hundreds or thousands of miles away, some articles are soon to be created by computer programs.
On Monday the Associated Press, one of the largest news agencies in the world, announced that it would soon begin using story-writing software by a company called Automated Insights to create short business news articles. By the end of this year AP plans to supply 4,400 “earnings stories” per quarter to its media clients. An earnings story is just what it sounds like: a report on a company’s periodic income. What the Automated Insights program does is gather the data and use it to produce formulaic copy of 150-300 words.
AP is not unique or even pioneering in the robot journalism game. The Los Angeles Times already uses an app to write breaking news stories. Automated Insights, however, is the king of churning out computer-written content. The company’s Wordsmith software reportedly produced 300 million stories last year and can even be programmed to include humour. Obviously, we readers can’t tell whether an application or a real person has written a story. It seems that in the field of journalism, machines have already passed the Turing test for artificial intelligence — hundreds of millions of times over.
While AP says that earning stories and in-depth reports on large companies like Google and Apple will still be written by people, with tools to adjust the individual tone of each article, it is conceivable that even more nuanced journalism will eventually become the domain of the ever-more sophisticated software application.
So, it turns out you were wrong when you thought that your creative, knowledge-based job couldn’t be outsourced to countries where labour is cheaper. You might also be wrong to think it can’t be done by a robot.