The rise of robot journalists


I have an abiding interest in robots and the role they play in our future. I am also a keen observer of where journalism is going. As it happens, the two domains are intersecting.

Robotic journalist conducting interview. Pic source: Singularity Hub, Charlie Catlett


Singularity Hub reports:

Researchers at the Intelligent Systems Informatics Lab (ISI) at Tokyo University have developed a journalist robot that can autonomously explore its environment and report what it finds. The robot detects changes in its surroundings, decides if they are relevant, and then takes pictures with its on board camera. It can query nearby people for information, and it uses internet searches to further round out its understanding. If something appears newsworthy, the robot will even write a short article and publish it to the web.

The creator of automated sports writer Statsheet, Robbie Allen, says:

I’m in the process of developing completely automated sports content, which will take the form of blogs. I’m not talking just a “stat of the day” or game recaps, but a lot more. I’ve identified 21 different types of sports stories that can be automated. You could say I’m trying to make the process of writing a sports blog so easy you don’t have to do anything at all. My goal for these blogs in version 1.0 is that at least 90% of the readers think the content was created by a human. One of the nice attributes of algorithmic content is that it can be improved over time. A blogger/writer’s internal script is pretty much set. They generally don’t change or improve the quality or comprehensiveness of their content over time in a significant way, but algorithms can be upgraded continuously. The “voice” of the content can be improved.

While we love the personalities (?!) of our newsreaders, when we have computer-generated newsreaders then they can create an entire program without a tantrum. Northwestern University’s News at Seven program does the job:

News At Seven is a system that automatically generates a virtual news show. Totally autonomous, it collects, parses, edits and organizes news stories and then passes the formatted content to artificial anchors for presentation. Using the resources present on the web, the system goes beyond the straight text of the news stories to also retrieve relevant images and blogs with commentary on the topics to be presented.

Once it has assembled and edited its material, News At Seven presents the content to its audience using avatars and text-to-speech (TTS) technology in a manner similar to the nightly news watched regularly by millions of Americans. The result is a cohesive, compelling performance that successfully combines techniques of modern news programming with features made by possible only by the fact that the system is, at its core, completely virtual.

As Poynter Online points out, this means that Columbia University’s recently announced dual degree in journalism and computer science could be the way to go. Journalism might BE technology.

Just joking. But as in every domain, the automation of tasks forces us to do what only people can, ultimately making us more human. But as the border moves, it will definitely change the shape of journalism.