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Robot journalists are about to start writing stories in the UK

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David Cornish
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"Okay AI - write me a story on last night's Liverpool vs United match?"

Sure, a one-armed monkey typing into a Nokia 3310 could have written a report on that game - but the Press Association (PA) of the UK really is set to start using computer intelligence to write short news stories. 

PA editor-in-chief Pete Clifton told a conference of the Society of Editors "robot journalists" could start writing automated match reports and election results for the UK organisation within the coming months.

"This won’t be replacing any of our fantastic journalists," he told the gathering in Carlisle on 18 October, who presumably shifted nervously in their chairs, "it will be more a case of offering an extra level when it comes to short market reports, election results and football reporting.

"Will it take over from proper journalists? Of course it won’t. We won’t have a robot going to a big fire or covering a crown court case."

The PA's UK operation is actually a bit late to the robotic party: the US branch of the media group has been publishing financial reports written by computers since 2015, in addition to prompt reports on baseball games, while PA's counter part news agency in Denmark, Ritzau, has already developed its own robot journalism programme to write hundreds of market reports a month. 

Ritzau's system works by analysing hundreds of market account reports - a bunch of numbers and fluctuating data - and churns out very, very short one line news "reports".

The system is heralded as being both faster and more accurate than a human looking at that same mass of numbers before attempt to write the same short sentences along the lines of "Apple tops Street 1Q forecasts". 

"They are more accurate than when somebody was trying to write too many stories on their own," said Clifton

He was also keen to emphasise that journalists wouldn't be losing their jobs, but rather that the system would be used to support the newsroom - as it does in Ritzau, where no journalists lost their jobs to the system.

"It will be more a case of offering an extra level when it comes to short market reports, election results and football reporting."

So expect PA stories on small factual topics, like football results, election stats and financial news, to get a lot faster in the near future. Who knows what other stories may become automated once the computer systems gain a better understanding of human language and factual reporting. Maybe they'll write all our headlines. Maybe they wrote this story.

Nah, they didn't. Or did they? 

No.

[Via: Press Gazette]

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David Cornish

Shortlist.com’s esteemed Tech Editor. David has a keen interest in video games, Star Wars and stuff that runs on batteries.

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