A new kind of journalism: written by robots?

cheney-is-a-robot.jpgRobots are once again becoming the greatest fear for humanity. They have returned in full-form: stronger, better, faster, and ever more pervasive to take over the human life form, and establish a digital anarchy across this planet.

Sci-fi movies from decades ago predicted that machines would take over the world – not necessarily in a menacing torturous way, but by simply replacing human beings in functions that allow humanity to continue to depend on each other. It was predicted that the human society as well know will be disrupted by the presence of robots in our midst. Well, the robots arrived, slowly but surely. No, they were not little man-like creatures that rolled on wheels and spoke with a structured hiccuping voice – they simply did the work, and they did it well. A sign outside my office reads to my co-workers “No Surprises”. Unfortunately they are human beings and every once in a while end up surprising me (in unpleasant ways), but robots would rarely do that (or so I dream some times :). While industrialization in the last few decades has brought robots into our factories to increase worker productivity, hospitals to improve accuracy, and in functions such as sniffing out bombs and/or survivors in a catastrophe, they had so far managed to stay away from our personal space at homes (unless you were living in the world of I, Robot or with Robin Williams in Bicentennial Man).

That era is also now past us. Robots seem to have invaded my little world. First it was the little robotic vacuum cleaner Roomba, then a robotic arm that we built for my company, and now I am told the daily news I am so addicted to will also be collected, authored, and delivered by tiny robots. Needless to say, it appears the old-fashioned journalism as we knew it is under serious attack by robots who have openly declared war on journalists whose job it was to collect information and weave them into news items. According to a news story, Thomson Financial, which had been using automatic computer programs to generate news for almost six months in a beta test, liked the output so much that it has decided to expand its fleet of robot reporters. With these computers putting out news stories based on financial reports in mere 0.3 seconds after receiving the data, what chance do us mere mortals have? I can’t even write the title for this note in that time!

I should have seen this coming. When was the last time I paid attention to who the author was on a news item reported in the Wall Street Journal or in a newswire. They all sound the same anyways, especially with the political correctness and ‘smoothening’ of the news that has become common place in America. If human emotions, perceptions, and impressions are not going to be a part of a story, who cares if it was written by a robot or a pen/paper journalist. I have myself moved on to GoogleNews and RSS feeders – away from good ol’ newspapers – and to get a personal touch I now read blogs which cannot really be called news sources. There seems to be little time (or place) for human journalists in my life, and certainly financial or business news doesn’t fall into that category. Maybe journalists will all become political commentators and opinion editorial writers? Watch out Tom Friedman, your space is about to get crowded!

Wired News is running another journalistic experiment that you – yes YOU – can also become a part of. Here’s what they say:

In an experiment in collaborative journalism, Wired News is putting reporter Ryan Singel at your service.

This wiki began as an unedited 1,059-word article on the wiki phenomenon, exactly as Ryan filed it. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to do the job of a Wired News editor and whip it into shape. Don’t change the quotes, but feel free to reorganize it, make cuts, smooth the prose or add links — whatever it takes to make it a lively, engaging news piece.

Ryan will answer questions from the comments page, and, when consensus calls for it, conduct additional reporting. If there’s something he missed, let him know, and he’ll get on the phone and investigate, then submit new text to the wiki for your review.

Readers can also submit headlines for the story, and write and editthe “deck” — a blurb for our front page and RSS feed that promotes the article.

To make any changes, you’ll first need to create a free account at Socialtext.

We’ll release the results under a Creative Commons license, and, if the whole thing doesn’t turn into a disaster, run the final story on Wired News on Sept. 7, 2006.

And on this blog: If you start too notice too many grammatical or spelling errors, please do alert me and I will tell my robots to stop misbehaving. Now I must take leave. My batteries need recharging.

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One Response to A new kind of journalism: written by robots?

  1. « BZ Notes! says:

    […] A new kind of journalism: written by robots? […]

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