Advertising maven and LinkedIN group leader Leon Sterling pointed to an article in Wired called Can an Algorithm Write a Better News Story Than a Human Reporter?
The short answer is if writers can’t be replaced right this minute, just wait a few. Instead of complaining about the off shoring of articles and the low pay, many of us will start whining about being replaced by an algorithm.
It turns out that a company called NarrativeScience has developed software that’s better than human beings at taking massive amounts of data and turning them into a, well, narrative that makes sense. And the darn thing (is software or an algorithm a thing?) can give you voice of a sort.
“You can get anything, from something that sounds like a breathless financial reporter screaming from a trading floor to a dry sell-side researcher pedantically walking you through it,” says Wired quoting the company.
Until now we’ve left this sort of data analysis to journalists and other writers who, frankly, haven’t been really good at it. Not for lack of trying. The human mind isn’t designed to process the fire hose of data we’ve got now. We’re fortunate when someone can help us make sense of even a tiny fraction of it.
While I’m delighted at anything that can take a literal mountain of data and turn it into prose I can understand I’m not sure how I feel about it being able to speak in a particular voice, like… well, like me. (Does this also mean we’ve finally got a machine that passes the Turing Test?)
Of course it doesn’t matter how I feel about it, it’s happening.
The Atlantic also has an article on Narrative Sciences called Can the Computers at Narrative Science Replace Paid Writers?
As a publication that is often about writing or about thought and writing, it quotes Narrative Sciences Chief Technology Officer Kris Hammond’s as saying “In the long run, our technology ends up being the mediator between data and the human experience.”
The question then becomes, I suppose, what about areas of human experience that can’t be quantified? Is that where we writers will end up?
Actually many of us are there already. The posts here are hardly data driven. Neither are the articles mentioned here in Wired and The Atlantic. In fact, much of what we love reading has nothing to do with data at all.
Which is hopeful.
The Atlantic also quotes Narrative Sciences as saying “But there are so many stories to be told that are not data-driven. That’s what journalists should focus on, right?”
That magazine ends with “ The net contributions of science and art, history and philosophy, can’t parse the full complexity of a human instant, let alone a life. For as long as this is true, we’ll still have a role in writing.”
Which is the good news for us.
What can you write better than any algorithm?