Robots that write? This morning I was reading The Great Divide Globalization, Populism and Stumbling Towards a Post Scarcity World this morning. (It’s a 37 page read.)
When I got to the part about robots taking jobs I felt fairly smug. I’d forgotten the rash of articles several years ago threatening that writing might no longer be the purview of humans before long.
It turns out robots that write is happening way faster than I thought it would. And has been for awhile.
The Washington Post
Wired published What News-Writing Bots Mean for the Future of Journalism in mid-February of 2017. The newspaper developed and launched a news-writing bot called Heliograf. in August of 2016 and in October that year they ran this headline: The Washington Post to use artificial intelligence to cover nearly 500 races on Election Day
If I’m understanding Heliograf correctly it actually generates bot-written text that Post editors then fact-check, and edit as much or as little as necessary. The stories actually update as new information comes in on the topic.
All this and more is fascinating and boils down, in my opinion at least, to robots writing. I suspect the darn thing learns as it goes along, probably not the way you and I do, but…
How robots that write are being sold to journalists
If you’ve ever worked in a news room, you know there are a lot of repetitive, boring tasks. Statistics of any kinds, sports, crime, population growth, make up of a population, number of kids per school, etc. etc. etc. is all pretty boring. News rooms are betting that journalists will happily give those beats up to machines so they can get on with scintillating analysis plus feet-on-the-ground investigations, and the other stuff that makes for great reporting. That part is working, more or less.
I say more or less because we simply don’t know what the longer term results will be. The whole news industry is seeing so much change that predictions are likely to be wrong. Plus, although I think I’d like to go back to the days when news was news rather than a commodity and entertainment my hunch is that simply isn’t going to happen.
Copyblogger and robots that write
In July, 2015, Demian Farnworth of Copyblogger wrote Don’t Panic, but This Article Was Written by an Algorithm. Even two years ago they spotted more robot written content than I was aware of today in mid-2017.
Demian assures us that robots won’t be able to describe say the aftermath of a hurricane. Immediate mental images of drones popped into my mind. He also suggests that robots won’t learn to write various genres – and I begin to suspect they’ll develop their own.
In truth I have no idea
Mostly what I suspect is we don’t really have a way to guess at this. We don’t really know what consciousness is – the best we can do is guess what it isn’t. We don’t truly understand creativity, not do we agree on what it produces.
Demian does propose five solutions for writers. I think he’s headed in the right direction, although I’d make a few changes. (And he may well have changed his mind by now- robotics is moving fast!) For example, I’m not at all convinced that advanced formal degrees will help, but learning to think and feel our way into ever bigger pictures while being grounded in how much we all have in common right ’round the planet seems right to me. And for some that will mean more academic study, but not as a cure-all, or a guarantee of future relevance.
Nor am I convinced specialization will be more important than a genuine ability to burst out of our own bubbles over and over again and see something new, then be able to hook it up with whatever is happening right then.
Demian is absolutely right when he says that to adapt is human. Not all humans adapt but we can work to learn, expand, and stay as flexible and creative as possible. That’s what, I believe, evolution requires.
Let the debate begin in comments!
Write well and often,
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