Narrative Science's claim that its algorithm-driven journalism will one day win a Pulitzer has human journalists quivering, yet we're still not convinced it's all that threatening to the future of journalism. Upon first looking at Narrative Science, a company that programs computers to do journalists' jobs, about a month ago, the not-very engaging text didn't scare us. Yet co-founder Kristian Hammond has given journalists cause for worry, telling Wired's Steven Levy in this month's issue that his robots will win that most prestigious prize in the next five years. He also predicts that bots will write more than 90 percent of the news in 15 years. Those predictions are indeed scary. It's a scary prediction, mostly because it's a scary vision for what Hammond thinks journalism is.
Hammond's robots take complicated data sets and turn them into stories, which appear on news sites like Forbes. So we get something like this write-up about The New York Times' earnings. The story was erroneously time stamped a full two days before the earnings were announced, but it was posted very soon after the company sent out its press release. What Narrative Science accomplishes in speed, it sacrifices in interest or analysis. Here's what the robots wrote:
What to Expect:
Analysts are expecting earnings of 2 cents per share, exactly the same as a year ago.
The consensus estimate is down from three months ago when it was 6 cents, but is unchanged over the past month. For the fiscal year, analysts are projecting earnings of 65 cents per share.
Analysts look for revenue to decrease 11.7% year-over-year to $500.3 million for the quarter, after being $566.5 million a year ago. For the year, revenue is projected to roll in at $2.08 billion.
Trends to Watch For:
For the last four quarters, the company has reported revenue decline. Revenue in fourth quarter of the last fiscal year was $643 million, a drop of 2.8% year-over-year. Revenue dropped 3.1% in the third quarter of the last fiscal year, fell 2.2% in second quarter of the last fiscal year and 3.6% in the first quarter of the last fiscal year.
That's useful information for harried bloggers to grab and create something useful out of, yes. But, also boring. There's "context," in the way that Hammond defines it: The machine knows The Times is a company. But no real context, or analysis, or prose, unlike this post human Joe Pompeo wrote over at Capital New York, where he explains what the numbers really mean, putting them in the context of the company's CEO search, or our own Alexander Abad-Santos, who judged the advertising revenue decline to be the most important part of report.