Reporters battle robots for journalism jobs

Durham company creates software to make (human) writers obsolete:

This month, StatSheet unveiled StatSheet Network, made up of separate Web sites for each of the 345 N.C.A.A. Division I men’s basketball teams. Beyond statistics galore, each site has what the company calls “automated content,” stories written entirely by software, including write-ups of the team’s games, past and future. With a joking wink, StatSheet’s founder, Robbie Allen, refers to these sites as the “Robot Army.”

“My goal was that 80 percent of readers wouldn’t question that the content was written by a human,” he says, “and now that we’ve launched, I think the percentage is higher.”

Maybe so, but would a robot be able to write, "80 percent of people who spend their time reading sports stories are f**king idiots."

They also wouldn't be able to reflect upon how such a statement might offend an unknown quantity of their readers, forcing them to swallow their pride and say, "I'm sorry." :)

The Statsheet Network’s Web sites are plainly labeled “beta,” and these minor bugs can easily be eliminated with tweaks. The bigger problem, the professor said, is that StatSheet’s software lacks the awareness of linguistic structures that would let it generate more complex sentences: “Getting from remarkably good to human level is very hard. The more you cram into a sentence, the more difficult it is to do it well.”

Tell me about it. I once had a beta reader offer to loan me some periods, as I was apparently running low and using commas in their place. Smartass.

Mr. Allen of StatSheet says he believes that what some readers regard as “stilted” will be appreciated by others who say “‘ I don’t like personality — I just want the straight facts.’”

He sees opportunities to extend robo-journalism not only to other sports but also to other subject areas — like financial news — in which there is an abundance of readily available data.

This is as good a time as any to reiterate the First Law of Robotics:

A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

That obscure Asimov reference may fly over the heads of many humans reading this, but the robots know what I'm talking about. Human journalists need food, shelter, a few off-the-rack suits, and maybe a little lovin' from time to time. If you take away their jobs, you are causing injury. In accordance with the Second Law, consider this a command: "Don't do it."