Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

News as fast food not a healthy diet

By David Edwards (China Daily) Updated: 2014-07-22 07:47

News as fast food not a healthy diet

This piece is not being written by a robot, but an increasing number of reports on the Internet are. Recently, a Los Angeles Times writer-bot wrote and posted a story about an earthquake only 3 minutes after it struck, and Associated Press announced that it plans to use automation technology from a company called Automated Insights to produce reports on companies' earnings.

Are we entering an era of automated journalism or is it more of a techno-hype in news production?

Narrative Science, a Chicago start-up specializing in robot writing, takes data from events like sports and crime, and uses algorithms to produce news stories. Indeed, Kristian Hammond, cofounder of Narrative Science, has said that some 90 percent of news could be written by computers by 2030.

So, can anonymous androids really take over from human journalists? What can they do that journalists can't and what will be the limitations of their application?

News bots take the power of database technology and apply it to news gathering. By stitching together data, such as matching statistics or crime figures, with language, they produce news reports.

To achieve this they are programmed with an informational view of the world. In brief, the technology accounts for situations in terms of entities (any relevant thing in a situation about which they gather data), entity attributes (data on entities) and the relationships between them.

Take a very simple example of having coffee. To start with, the entities involved may be a table, a chair, a mug of coffee and a person. All the entities have unique individual attributes such as the type of table, the color of chair and the coffee brand. These are data. Also, the entities are related to each other, for example, the coffee drinker sits on the chair, the coffee mug is placed on the table and the coffee is consumed by the person. Taken together, these data and relationships create information about the coffee shop, and form an informational map that can be used to report on all coffee shops.

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