Matt Carlson has written an interesting piece of research (£) into ‘The Robotic Reporter’: namely, automated journalism where articles are written by algorithms. His interest lies largely in the “technological drama” of competing narratives and cultures – but along the way he identifies some developments and implications which appear in the minority of reports beyond those recurring stories of “augmentation or elimination” (of journalists’ jobs), but which may be more interesting. By way of background here, it’s worth emphasising that automated reporting is already playing a significant role in the news industry, with AP announcing last year that “software will write the majority of its earnings reports”. Last year also saw the publication of research that showed that people couldn’t tell the difference between articles written by journalists, and articles written by software.
Every robot journalist first needs to ingest a bunch of data. Data rich domains like weather were some of the first to have practical natural language generation systems. Now we’re seeing a lot of robot journalism applied to sports and finance — domains where the data can be standardized and made fairly clean. The development of sensor journalism may provide entirely new troves of data for producing automated stories. Key here is having clean and comprehensive data, so if you’re working in a domain that’s still stuck with PDFs or sparse access, the robots haven’t gotten there yet.