Algorithm is the name of the game

World trends in automated journalism

11 June 2014

Concha Catalan @conchacatalan

Automated journalism marked the start of the GEN Summit in Barcelona. 'It is the next logical step: let the computer do one more task,' said moderator Yves Eudes from Le Monde. News-writing computers make journalists feel their jobs are at risk and also 'Who wouldn’t like to get rid of journalists?' he inquired humorously. Some impressive first experiments of robot journalism were then shown. 

Among them, NarrativeScience uses Quill, an artificial intelligence platform to generate stories from data. For the time being, they are mostly about sports and business. 'The reason why some of these stories are not written by people is because there isn’t enough interest,' said Larry Birnbaum, from Northwestern University, who also mentioned 52,000 school descriptions edited at once in collaboration with ProPublica.

David Sancha from Xaloc, one of the few Spanish speakers, gave a most entertaining presentation, based on a dialogue with Siri about what robots could do. Siri was very politically correct: 'We have a lot of human editors here. Why a robot?' but finally admitted robots can write, edit and design news, as well as sell ads. 

Wibbitz produces 10,000 stories a day

'We humans continue to evolve too, we are not finished,' counterpointed Tom Kent, responsible for editorial standards across the Associated Press. Craig Silverman, founder of Regret the Error, from the Poynter Institute, stressed the importance of fact-checking.

In that line, Cory Haik, executive producer from The Washington Post, showed her 'passion project', TruthTeller; and Stanislas Motte introduced Trooclick. Even Burt Herman, co-founder of Storify, admitted that 'not everybody can write a good story; it takes a lot of skill'.

Other innovations presented at the GEN Summit –and this is only the first afternoon- were automated writing in several languages by Yseop and video summaries created out of text-based articles by Wibbitz. 'We produce 10,000 of these a day', said co-founder Yotam Cohen. Stay tuned.

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