Predicted: In 15 Years, 90% of News Stories Will Be Written by Algorithms


That's the vision of the journalistic future of a company now training computer-writers.


We've already begun to see a trickle of computer-authored journalism. Prepare yourself for the flood: In 15 years time, more than 90 percent of news will be written by an algorithm, predicts Kristian Hammond, the CTO and cofounder of Narrative Science, according to a fascinating new profile of the company by Steven Levy in Wired (definitely recommended-reading in full).

What about the jobs? Those poor, wretched journalists who will be thrown out on the street to fend for themselves among the remains of other 20th-century industries? What will become of them?

But it's not a zero-sum game in which one robot-produced story shoves a work of the human brain out the door. Rather, the "universe" of news stories is expanding, and the algorithms of Narrative Science are there to meet the latent demand for news too costly for humans to craft.

Take, for example, Little League games. What grandparent wouldn't love to read an account of the highlights from her kid's game? But what newspaper is going to send reporters to cover them? None. Narrative Science has figured out a way to fill in that gap. With an iPhone app called GameChanger, parents can enter a game's play-by-play, down to each pitch. Supplied with that data, Narrative Science's computer programs can create little write-ups of the games which grandparents and all avid Little League fans the world over can read online. "Last year," Levy reports, "the software produced nearly 400,000 accounts of Little League games. This year that number is expected to top 1.5 million." The program even displays some "emotional intelligence" in its Little League reporting: Grandparents, as it turns out, don't really want to read a straight drama of ups and downs, as though they had no dog in the fight. They want to kvell. "So," Levy writes, "the algorithmic accounts of those matchups ignore dropped fly balls and focus on the heroics."

But as much as it is the quantity of computer-produced news that impresses, Narrative Science's execs are bullish on quality as well. Asked if computer-journalism could win a Pulitzer in the next 20 years, Hammond spat back "five" -- likely a scoop from the data computers are so well-positioned to mine.

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Rebecca J. Rosen is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees the Business Channel. She was previously an associate editor at The Wilson Quarterly.

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