As if print journalism's death knell wasn't already loud enough, here's a downright deafening new note that's sure to make both print and online journalists reach for a pair of industrial earmuffs.
But before we have a listen, read this first:
Newt Gingrich received the largest increase in tweets about him today. Twitter activity associated with the candidate has shot up since yesterday, with most users tweeting about taxes and character issues. Newt Gingrich has been consistently popular on Twitter, as he has been the top riser on the site for the last four days. Conversely, the number of tweets about Ron Paul has dropped in the past 24 hours. Another traffic loser was Rick Santorum, who has also seen tweets about him fall off a bit.
Sounds a little stodgy, wooden and robotic for my liking. Well, that's not surprising, considering it was written by a robot.
The computer-generated content comes complements of the humanoids at Illinois-based startup Narrative Science. Determined that those of us in the press can easily be replaced by a few algorithms and software, the company has found a way to combine machine learning, data analysis and artificial intelligence to crank out short- and long-form articles for data-swamped subjects like real estate, finance, sports and polling.
To give articles the human touch of a "story angle," the system's software learns concepts and catchphrases, then collects historical data to sequence an article. For example, for a sports story, the system learns phrases like "come from behind,' "team effort" and "season high," among others. The software then decides the most significant element of the game and that becomes the article's first paragraph, known as the lead.
While my first reaction to this technology is blood-boiling contempt and scorn, the Future Journalism Project makes a good point, and as an occasional sports journalist, I can relate. The point being that journalists could be alleviated from having to write the very short game summaries that more often than not are purely composed of stats, names and scores.
Still, call me old school, but I'd like to think even the most mundane aspects of journalism don't need to be farmed out to a bunch of cyborgs and circuit boards. Sure, it may reduce the drudgery of churning out purely statistical content, but the last thing journalism needs right now is to have its public perception polluted even more with the idea that we journalists can be replaced by automatons.