A program called WordSmith that writes simple stories beat a human reporter at writing an article by five minutes, but the human version read better.
NPR White House correspondent and former business reporter Scott Horsley agreed to go head to head against Automated Insight’s WordSmith, which is a robot that writes news stories.
Robbie Allen, CEO of Automated Insight, told NPR: “WordSmith takes data and turns it into a story as if a person wrote it.”
Behind those basic, fact-filled news stories about sports results or financial news that often pop up everywhere is a machine and not an actual human.
“We write a billion stories a year,” Allen said.
Both reporters had to write a story about the basic earnings of a restaurant after the stock market closed, but the robot took two minutes to write it, while Horsley finished after seven minutes and 30 seconds.
However, when reading back the story, Horsley’s copy had more flair and nuance, beating the computer on style.
“You know that movie where the guy comes across the finish line two days after everybody else has finished in the marathon,” Horsley said.
“That’s what this was like. But people still cheer for him because he’s got so much heart.”
It might be too soon for robots to replace human writers, but WordSmith can also be set up to write in a more humorous tone or include metaphors, while writing 9,999 stories at the same time.
Media organisations are increasingly turning to developers to come up with smart ways to incorporate computer algorithms in the daily news whirl.
Forbes.com already uses an artificial intelligence platform provided by the technology company Narrative Science to generate automated news from live data sets harvested from old articles, while LA Times uses robots to report on earthquakes.
Associated Press, the global news agency, partnered with Automated Insights last year and is using the WordSmith platform to automate all the quarterly earnings reports.
AP now publishes about 3,000 such stories every quarter – a tenfold increase over what AP reporters and editors created previously.
But robot-journalists won’t be stealing people’s jobs just yet.
“Our customers tell us they are thrilled to be getting more content about companies in their states and regions, said Lou Ferrara, the AP vice president and managing editor who oversees business news.
“Automation has allowed us to free reporters to focus on less data processing and put more energy into high-level reporting.”