While the news industry scrambles to cut costs, job security is top of mind for many journalists. That’s why news of a robot that can report, interview, photograph and even write articles is a bit unsettling. The robojournalism revolution is still in its glitchy infancy, but the technology is improving. The military is already using robojournos.
A post by Singularity Hub technology blogger Aaron Saenz says:
“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.”
Like many journalists who weighed in on the issue, Gizmodo blogger Adam Frucci sort-of-jokingly worries about his job:
“Like the manufacturers that came before me and the masseuses that will come after, my work will soon be done by a robot. After all, robots don’t get distracted by YouTube/porn, report old products as new, or hold biases against certain companies. But can they write amazing zingers like me? Can they?! God, I sure hope not.”
But asked to write about itself, the robot journalist reveals some flaws, Gizmodo reports:
“Newly upgraded robot journalist, improvement from previous versions, including ambient anomaly detection ability for seeking of stories. Upgrade robot abilities including subject photographing and subject interviewing automatically. Further including abilities to publish stories to internet instantly. People will become worried: robot journalist is overturning professions.”
“They’re supposedly able to detect anomalies in their environments to determine newsworthy items, take relevant photographs and collect quotes from bystanders. They can then synthesize all of those components into a piece and publish it directly to the web. (Apparently there’s no robo-editor?) We’ve always joked about these robot writers taking our jobs, but this new one actually has us a little scared. Thankfully, it looks like we have a little time before it perfects its human-voice!”
This isn’t the first robojournalist to make the news. Late last year researchers at the Intelligent Information Lab at Northwestern University in Illinois created a program called Stats Monkey, which analyzes baseball scores and play by plays to automatically generate a sports story – including headlines and matching player photos.
For journos wondering how their writing compares to a computer program, here’s excerpt from a Stats Monkey story for the October 11th playoff game between the Angels and Red Sox, reported by the New York Times:
“BOSTON — Things looked bleak for the Angels when they trailed by two runs in the ninth inning, but Los Angeles recovered thanks to a key single from Vladimir Guerrero to pull out a 7-6 victory over the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on Sunday.
Guerrero drove in two Angels runners. He went 2-4 at the plate.
“When it comes down to honoring Nick Adenhart, and what happened in April in Anaheim, yes, it probably was the biggest hit (of my career),” Guerrero said. “Because I’m dedicating that to a former teammate, a guy that passed away.” (read more)
Some journalists looked at the situation with humour. From a Toronto Star article by Cathal Kelly:
“Sure, the game story doesn’t make a whole lot of sense anymore, given that fans are bombarded 24/7 with score updates and highlight packages. And why bother using the magic of your imagination when cable TV will compress last night’s game into six minutes of action? Well, if the vaguely romantic notion of the primacy of the printed word doesn’t touch your heart, how about keeping unemployed sports reporters from pestering you at the cash machine?”