Robots wot write

Wired magazine has a way of making me feel like I’m living in the future. Mostly, that’s a good thing – knowing about all the insanely clever things people in the world are doing with technology. But sometimes, it gets a bit scary. Like last month, when they released their 25 big ideas for 2012. On that list, they have things like wireless mind control, connected conservation, ubiquitous face recognition, corporate long-termism and, er, bioart.

I’ll leave you to delve into the daunting details of those, but basically folks, the machines are taking over everything. Almost. For a stomach-plunging split second, I looked at the heading Robo writers, and had visions of pen-wielding robots coming after our jobs.

Apparently there are firms in America designing machines that come up with ‘narrative content from data: no humans required’. Yikes. In the article, they’ve given this example of this football match report, generated by one of their slave robots:

An own goal by Liverpool goalie José Reina in the 90th minute allowed Arsenal to escape with a 1-1 tie on Sunday at Anfield. Liverpool had spent the entire second half down a player after referee Martin Atkinson gave midfielder Joe Cole a red card for his tackle of Laurent Koscielny at the very end of the first. Still, Liverpool maintained a 1-0 advantage for most of the second half...

A fairly straightforward report of a football match. Then I read it again. And I decided that while they’re definitely a step up from the automated spam messages Bee blogged about, there’s still something missing. The emotion, the drama, the theatrics. There’s no opinion in what’s essentially a bland, factual retelling of what happened, and so it doesn’t make for exciting or entertaining reporting.

Inject some metaphors, imagery, colours, senses, atmosphere and, of course, politics, and it might start sounding like it was written by someone with a beating heart and warm blood. But robots can’t do that. Plus, the people who designed this ‘Authoring Engine’ (I know, really?) are talking about ‘ingesting data’ and ‘inflection points’. I don’t think this writing’s meant for real human beings.

So while Wired ended the article with ‘Uh oh’, I’d end it with an assured, if not cocky, ‘psshhh’. The robots won’t be taking over the writing world just yet.


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on Jan 10, 2012

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