That Awkward Moment When a Robot Replaces You in the Newsroom…

By Emily Gray Brosious | Featured photo by Justin Cameraface via Flickr cc | Feb. 19, 2015

Picture a world where newswires are staffed by fully automated robots, programmed to produce and aggregate news stories better and faster than people ever could.

Outlandish? —– Maybe not. “Robot journalism” is actually a growing trend.

In a recent piece for European Journalism Observatory, robotic journalism researcher Nicholas Diakopoulos said algorithm technologies promise the ability to cheaply and quickly produce content on a massive scale, and automatically personalize that content for individuals, groups, locations and so forth.

Automated Insights, an American company billing itself as a “wordsmith platform”, currently produces 3,000 earnings report articles per quarter for the Associated Press — all generated automatically with data input algorithms.

Narrative Science, another U.S. company, generates sports, finance, web analytics and other stories the same way.

“Anywhere there is clean and well-structured data an algorithm can now write straight news stories that are in some cases indistinguishable from human-written ones,” Diakopoulos says.

Does all this mean impending doom for hard-news reporting jobs?

Perhaps. But Diakopoulos is more interested in contemplating positive journalistic applications for such technology.

He points to bots that are already “pushing into higher-order journalistic functions” in the social media realm, like Twitter’s @cybercyber bot, which critiques the overuse of the term “cyber” in news stories, and the @NYTAnon bot, which detects and Tweets instances where anonymous sources have been used in New York Times articles.

He’s pretty optimistic, all things considered, and even suggests that robots may help re-boot public service journalism going forward.

But we’ll see if he’s singing that same tune when algorithms come for his job.

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