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Artificial Intelligence Algorithms now Writing the ‘News’ you read

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July 25, 2012 in Technology

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Note: Not here at The Real Agenda

By LUIS MIRANDA | THE REAL AGENDA | JULY 12, 2012

While the military are trying to do away completely with human soldiers, high tech companies are now doing the same with the journalistic profession. Although in the past, the military and intelligence agencies infiltrated news rooms and literally began to write the news most of the public reads, watches and listens to on the main stream media, technology has now been employed to take it up another notch.

“The new reporter on the US media scene takes no coffee breaks, churns out articles at lightning speed, and has no pension plan,” explains AFP. As many people expected, the reporter of the future will not be human either, but a computer fitted with artificial intelligence capabilities, that will ‘write’ the news for public consumption. The control behind the public agenda will not only be in the hands of the powerful forces that now physically write the news most people consume, but also under the corporations and their owners who are responsible for creating an AI-based infrastructure loaded with algorithms that translate data or raw information into readable prose.

“Algorithms are producing a growing number of articles for newspapers and websites,” says AFP, such as a recent one published on Narrative Science:

“Wall Street is high on Wells Fargo, expecting it to report earnings that are up 15.7 percent from a year ago when it reports its second quarter earnings on Friday, July 13, 2012,” said the article on Forbes.com.

Of course that is just a sample.

Although it is thought that computers aren’t still capable of creating a news report in the way a human being does it, that AI computer has the unhuman capacity to process large amounts of data and information faster than a single human could, and therefore can put out more reports at all times of the day. The governments already use similar technology to automatically carried out propaganda placement campaigns in news websites all over the Internet with tools known as bots or trolls, which in many cases are simply put, computer programs that seek for words or phrases that are identified as opposing government or government policies and programs. Those bots or trolls identify such words, phrases and opinions and respond, just as a human would, to that comment.

The existence of this kind of technology may be the oasis in the middle of the desert for main stream news companies that continue to struggle not only to cut costs and improve ad sales on print, TV and radio news, but also to battle the growing influence of alternative news media. “With media companies under intense financial pressure, the move to automate some news production “does speak directly to the rebuilding of the cost economics of journalism,” reports AFP.

The possibility to create news content by using AI computers or algorithms has already found cheerleaders in academia. Stephen Doig, is a journalism professor at Arizona State University. He has used computer systems to revise information that is later given to reporters. Mr. Doig believes the use of computer algorithms to ‘write’ news is ’a logical next step’. ”I don’t have a philosophical objection to that kind of writing being outsourced to a computer, if the reporter who would have been writing it could use the time for something more interesting,” he says.

Members of the industry behind the technology used to mimic news writing, see the general use of AI computers or algorithms as news writers as ‘the next generation of content creation’. So says Scott Frederick, COO of Automated Insights, who agrees with Stephen Doig on how this technology will be the next step in content creation. His company began working on content creating technology back in 2007 and now it is responsible for generating content for news stories.

The only limitation that seems to exist with AI technology that writes news content is the quality of the input before such technology is used to create the news reports.  However, some of the samples published by AFP sound just fine. Take this one from the 2012 Super Bowl: “Hakeem Nicks had a big night, paving the way to a victory for the Giants over the Patriots, 21-17 in Indianapolis. With the victory, New York is the champion of Super Bowl XLVI.” Or if you are a New England fan, take a look at this one: ”Behind an average day from Tom Brady, the Patriots lost to the Giants, 21-17 at home. With the loss, New England falls short of a Super Bowl ring.”

According to industry experts the key to the use of this technology is the data fed to it. “Data becomes the seeds of the content trees,” says Frederick. It is then the process of improving the quality of the data included in the algorithms which will render more human-like written content; a task that is by no means impossible to undertake. “We’re about two-thirds engineering and one-third journalism,” said Kristian Hammond, chief technology officer at Chicago-based Narrative Science.

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