Monday, October 26, 2015

The "blogging bot"


While I can't find the post right now, I know that I must have blogged about it before.

The news media has been responsible for something of a stride in technology. Several outlets now have software apps to generate the content of their news stories. As described in Wired:

"The Associated Press uses software to generate news stories on corporate earnings reports. Fox auto-generates some sports recaps that appear on its Big Ten Network site, while Yahoo uses similar technology to create fantasy sports reports custom-made for each of its users. Now you can turn your own data into stories, too—no writing necessary."

Now, Automated Insights, the software developers responsible for these "writing bots," have provided a beta version of this technology available on Wordsmith. There is an open template and the Wordsmith bot fills in the content. As the Wired article describes it: "It's a bit like a more complicated version of Mad Libs meets mail merge." As one might deduce from the kinds of examples cited above, the app is especially useful for generating articles based on spreadsheets of data.

You might think that as a blogger, I'd be opposed to such technology. I'm not. I say this for a few reasons.

First of all, I've long blogged about the inexorable march of technology. It is a form of "creative destruction" and if I opposed it in this case, I would be a true hypocrite. Not that it would be a first time for me, but I try to avoid it if I can. Secondly, part of what drives the development of "bots" like these or other labor-replacing systems is goal of freeing us from tasks that no one really wants to do anyway. As stated in the article: "...the tool looks like a useful way to offload the least rewarding writing tasks onto a machine that won’t mind the tedium." There's nothing wrong with that. Lastly, I'm no major proponent of "the human spirit" (whatever that is) but we're a long way off from an app that can generate a text of critical journalism.

Give it time, though. I see no reason why that if given a long enough timeline, an artificial intelligence couldn't do all of the writing tasks most writers currently perform, including creative. We're all replaceable.

In fact this whole "news-writing-bot" issue has me thinking. How long before a student has her own app to generate an entire paper's-worth of content? As long as I have my own auto-grading app, I might be okay with it. That would go a long way towards relieving my taphephobia at seeing mounds of papers.

I could go for that.


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