Stuck in the middle
The age of robot journalism is here. Financial reports, sports stories and even books are being produced by automated platforms that crunch through raw data and generate quality content.
While advancements in automation technology traditionally replace certain job functions, they also create new opportunities. In most instances, technology enables individuals to focus on more value-added tasks, relieving employees from activities that require minimal creativity, innovation or lateral thinking.
In this sense, the creative sphere of journalism and the content creation process has been seen to be somewhat protected from the doomed spell of automation.
Proponents argue that auto-journalism frees up literary creatives to cut through the overload of today’s Web content creation and other data polluting digital channels. Journalists can focus on the stories that matter, including those that require a human voice or opinion.
Will robot journalism supplant real writers?
To this point, the Associated Press announced last year that the production of earnings reports would be shifted to the finely tuned algorithms of Automated Insights, a real-time content automation platform. These business reports typically require extensive number crunching and content repackaging with little need or room for artistic license — a perfect task for the bot-journalist.
By producing financial reports through Automated Insights, AP is able to increase the volume of earnings reports tenfold and also free up human journalist capacity.
The question is, “What happens when the robots develop artificial intelligence that begins mimicking human thought processes?” As machines become increasingly intelligent, will the territory of content creators and human journalists be slowly encroached upon and captured?
In a recent New York Times opinion piece, Shelley Podolny alludes to the books of Philip M. Parker, an INSEAD management science professor, whose patented algorithmic platform has auto-narrated more than a million books. His system generates tailored copy that mimics his thought process.
There’s also the chilling video “Humans Need Not Apply,” produced by C.G.P. Grey, that suggests humans will be shifted out of traditional occupations through the emergence of “mechanical minds” in the same way horses were supplanted by the internal combustion engine.
Robot journalism vs. individuality
So is there still a future for writers and content creators? Or will their vocation fall victim to the increasingly intelligent technology revolution?
While repetitive content generation that regurgitates key facts and statistics may well be overtaken by bot writers, there is one fundamental assumption underpinning the literary doomsday theory that fails to hold true. Quality content that stimulates debate and forms the foundation of civil society is based on the opinions, thoughts and arguments put forward by leaders and influencers across all spheres of business.
While bot-journalists may be able to mimic human thinking or tone of voice, they will never be able to imitate or predict the ideas, beliefs and opinions of individuals.
In this regard, auto-journalism proves to be a friend to humans. Bots will relieve individuals to focus on compelling stories as well as the exchange of ideas that form fodder for debate and reflection. But the mechanical mind will never replace the originality and authenticity of the human mind.