Where Does Your Info Come From? Mainstream Media Now Literally Using Robots to Write News

From Claire Bernish:

Corporate ownership of 90 percent of media outlets in the United States has made the term ‘mainstream journalist’ quite the oxymoron, but the Washington Post’s newest project eliminates ‘journalist’ from the equation entirely — robots are now writing the outlet’s ‘news.’

Using artificial intelligence technology, the Washington Post is ‘employing’ software to ‘write’ hundreds of news briefs highlighting key information about the Olympic Games in Rio in real-time.

“‘Heliograf,’ which was developed in-house, automatically generates short, multi-sentence updates for readers,” the Post proudly announced Friday, as if the news organization couldn’t predict the collective American jaw-drop at the notion a computer could simply replace a longstanding tradition of actual journalism.

“Automated storytelling has the potential to transform the Post’s coverage,” explained Jeremy Gilbert, director of strategic initiatives at the Washington Post, in what could easily be deemed the understatement of the year. “More stories, powered by data and machine learning, will lead to a dramatically more personal and customized news experience.

The Olympics are the perfect way to prove the potential of this technology. In 2014, the sports staff spent countless hours manually publishing event results. Heliograf will free up Post reporters and editors to add analysis, color from the scene and real insight to stories in ways only they can.

In other words, for the time being the Post’s robot writer will be held to reporting grunt work — for the Olympics, Heliograf will essentially regurgitate medal counts, scores, daily event schedules, and similarly non-complex topics by writing the most basic of narrative briefs.

In that context, robot ‘writers’ might not be an affront to the tradition of hard-hitting journalism — but the Post’s plans for Heliograf don’t end with simple sports statistics and basic sentences.

Post engineers plan to develop the technology far beyond its current manifestation as statistician — Heliograf will cover …

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