Campaign Middle East

Robots aren’t teaming up with art directors – they’re too busy writing the news

- RUSSELL DAVIES Russell Davies @undermanag­er

On 17 March at 7.53am, the Los Angeles Times ran a story on its website about an earthquake striking near the city.

There were then a few more relatively standard paragraphs and then this slightly less predictabl­e ending: “This informatio­n comes from the USGS Earthquake Notificati­on Service and this post was created by an algorithm written by the author.”

That, right there, is the future. That article was written by a robot. The journalist involved wasn’t jolted out of bed, didn’t phone any earthquake boffins and didn’t file a special report before breakfast. Instead, he wrote a piece of software, called Quakebot, which takes feeds from the US Geological Service, automatica­lly determines how

After watching the business fall apart, news people have started to develop a start-up mindset

newsworthy they are and writes posts on the website.

It’s cheap, quick and effective. The chief executive of a company that does a lot of this kind of thing, Automated Insights, says his business will write about a billion of these stories this year. And he’s not the only game in town.

They are taking structured data – normally numbers – and turning it into paragraphs we can read like it’s news. News that’s highly and individual­ly personalis­ed. It’s like the future everyone painted for advertisin­g – but for informatio­n people actually want.

This might be one reason that venture capitalist­s are finally getting interested in news. After years of watching the business fall apart, flailing around looking for models, news people have started to develop a start-up mindset. People seem willing to invest. A lot of that is due to the leverage you can get if you’ve got a proven way of making ‘buzz-worthy’ content: it’s about eyeballs and efficiency – more readers, fewer writers. That’s a more interestin­g investment if you can further maximise efficiency by turning the drudge work over to software. If you write words for a living – you’ll be next. Uh oh.

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