Robots are Writing the News: Is There a Reason for Fear?

Are you afraid of Robots? I don’t blame you. From killer robots in blockbuster films like The Terminator, to BBC Headlines stating ‘Robot automation will ‘take 800 million jobs by 2030’’, it can seem hard to see the positives. Robots are now infiltrating your life by writing the articles you read everyday; is this really something to fear?

Photograph: Pixabay

It’s called Automated Journalism, and it’s growing fast without most of us even knowing it exists. Automated Journalism is an algorithmic program that can write a news story with little need for any human interference. The Washington Post’s ‘robot reporter’ has already published over 850 articles, and there are predictions that 90% of all news read by the general public will be generated by AI by 2025, according to Infolab researcher, Kris Hammond.

Have you heard of Automated Journalism? Despite it becoming so widespread, most of us are completely unaware of its existence. In a survey conducted at King’s College London with 35 interviewees, only 34% were aware of the existence of Automated Journalism. With news giants such as The Wall Street Journal, The Associated Press and Forbes jumping on the bandwagon and using Automated Journalism, there is a major imbalance between the growing use of robots in journalism and the general public’s knowledge of this.

Have you heard of Automated Journalism? Despite it being so widespread, most of us are unaware of its existence. In a survey conducted at King’s College London with 35 interviewees, only 34% were aware of  the existence Automated Journalism. There is a major imbalance between the growing use of robots in journalism and the general public’s knowledge of this.

In a technology-crazed society, Artificial Intelligence is a part of our everyday lives in one form or another. From Mobile Banking to product recommendations on Amazon, we heavily rely on AI for many day-to-day tasks. Since the 1960s, when machines began to replace workers in American automotive factories, there has been a creeping ascend to more job sectors being replaced by algorithm-run programs. However, a creative and thought-driven career such as journalism could not be replaced by an algorithm, could it?

Photograph: Pixabay

The well-established global news network, Associated Press have developed an algorithm program to produce Automated Journalism. Using Natural Language Generator (NLG), the news organisation publishes thousands of articles that start as raw data and are transformed by their algorithm into a readable story. These articles include nothing more than the algorithms article layout and the data provided on the event.

Sebastian Tranæus, a Tech Lead at Noa Technologies Inc, claimed he would prefer that news reports on sport and elections were written by algorithms. “An algorithm can’t prefer a team or candidate”, Tranæus stated; “I can trust them to give me unbiased facts about the game or election”. Without the human emotion attached to the article to statistic-based articles, the article can give nothing more but a truthful account of the event. An algorithm won’t be a die-hard Chelsea supporter that will struggle to critique their performance in an article about their match.

However, there is still a great deal of discomfort in the idea of an algorithm producing our news. 84% of interviewees stated they do not trust Automated Journalism in a survey conducted by King’s College London, and would prefer news written by a human. “The idea makes me very uncomfortable” stated Juliette Garside, Investigations correspondent at The Guardian. Despite Garside’s use of algorithms to help assist her in research for articles, the journalist stated she did not want to see full feature articles written by an algorithm. “For some writing tasks robots may be appropriate”, Garside added, for short articles about “anticipated events”.

The Associated Press uses their AI reporter program to produce articles of exactly this nature. The algorithm produces articles for Minor League Baseball scores. “It’s easier to read a computer-generated article” reported Melania, a 24 year old LSE graduate: “what I want to get from an article is information, not a spiritual experience”, she stated in an interview.

For now, Automated Journalism only covers these kinds of events. Investigative journalism will always be a human’s job, which have the knowledge, feeling and persuasion to publish a good, moving piece. “Humans write some kind of bias” acclaimed Garside. But this is not necessarily a bad thing. Bias can create unique, passionate articles that are more likely to be read.

Photograph: by the Author

Is Automated Journalism replacing journalists? At it’s current level of advancement, no. With the assistance of The Guardians in-house robot reporters, Garside is able to save time on research as the program will search through vast data logs for her. “It can save time by matching names of persons of interest, against hundreds of thousands of names in the data.” Journalists and Automated Journalism programs can work alongside each other to actually help improve the journalists work, rather than replacing them.

So, should we be afraid of robots writing the news?

The answer is no, not really. There is no Killer Robot taking all our jobs like Hollywood makes us believe- the ‘Killer Robot’ is merely informing us on minor league baseball. At least for now.