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Robots are writing the news!

Google is funding a project where  1000 news stories a day will be auto-generated.  But US media is already ahead in this game.

Bangalore July 20 2017: From Hollywood classics like "The Front Page", to  Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman   unraveling Watergate in "All the President's Men" to   our own Seema/Sridevi trying  to unmask "Mr India",  the journalist pounding  away on a typewriter ( or latterly at a desktop PC) is the very stereotype of  how news stories are written. Perhaps not for long.  The Robots are taking over! 

Earlier this month, the UK's national news agency,  Press Association ( PA), announced that it had received a  $ 800,000 ( Rs 5.2 crore)  grant from Google's Digital  News Initiative fund  for its RADAR -- Reporters And Data And Robots -- project.  The PA is trying to see if it can generate  up to 30,000 stories a month --  for local and regional consumption --  automatically without human effort.   Journalists ( human) will  tap   mostly large government and local administration data bases  for the system to auto-generate  stories relating  to  employment, health, crime etc.  So in future if readers in a small British town, read in their morning paper about  new job opportunities in the city council or  a  local health warning or  stories of local  crime culled from Police press notes  -- chances are,  no human wrote them; they were machine generated by RADAR.

PA is trying out this robot-reporter jointly with Urbs Media, a startup specializing in data-driven news. The two will  deploy a small team  of around 5 humans to  oversee the automated output. 

Things  are still in the learning stage:  PA expects to  launch this machine-generate flood of localized news early in 2018. 

Radical  as it sounds, it is not the first time wire services have  experimented with  robot news generation.

The US experience: Even two years ago, the Associated Press in the US, began auto-generating sports news, starting with  collegiate baseball.   This ensured that every  town with a college, got  baseball news about its own team.  AP used software created by Automated Insights, a company specializing in  tapping Big Data to produce news content.  The technology was also used for the first time that year to report the quarterly earnings of Apple, within seconds of the information becoming available, and ahead of  manually reported news agencies. Automated  Insights said its Natural Language Generation (NLG) platform could create  2000 news articles per second, if called to do so.

In 2016, The Washington Post newspaper used its own  neo-news tool called  Heliograf,   to auto-generate   bursts  of   result updates at its  news blog, as well as tweets,  during the Rio Olympics.

If media organizations can save money on hiring humans as reporters -- they will , where ever possible. Right now only the more mundane news --  long lists of  football or racing results  or news where  the official press release needs  minimal editing -- is being auto generated.   But who knows how long it will take for owners to expand the role, to reduce  the number of living breathing  journalists? 

"I don't think   computer whizz-bangery is going to replace bonafide reporting", said  the head of  the (UK) National Union of Journalists, Tim Dawson, warning against the trend if it ends up  churning out 'third rate stories" which merely "look exciting".

The Machines are slowly creeping into the newsroom.  How long  and in what areas,  will Man prevail?





    


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