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