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Algorithm-Generated Articles Won't Kill the Journalism Star

Soulskill posted about 3 months ago | from the articles-will-just-be-the-word-'shocking'-repeated-700-times dept.

The Media 29

theodp writes: The AP's announcement that software will write the majority of its earnings reports, argues The Atlantic's Joe Pinsker, doesn't foretell the end of journalism — such reports hardly require humans anyway. Pinsker writes, "While, yes, it's true that algorithms can cram stories about vastly different subjects into the same uncanny monotone — they can cover Little League like Major League Baseball, and World of Warcraft raids like firefights in Iraq — they're really just another handy attempt at sifting through an onslaught of data. Automated Insights' success goes hand-in-hand with the rise of Big Data, and it makes sense that the company's algorithms currently do best when dealing in number-based topics like sports and stocks." So, any chance that Madden-like (video) generated play-by-play technology could one day be applied to live sporting events?

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yeah no kidding (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47389085)

journalism killed the journalism star

Journalism died a long time ago (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47389099)

All that's left are propagandists.

Re:Journalism died a long time ago (2)

gweihir (88907) | about 3 months ago | (#47389475)

Indeed. If they automatize things, we will at least have consistent low quality...

Re:Journalism died a long time ago (3, Interesting)

arglebargle_xiv (2212710) | about 3 months ago | (#47391689)

Indeed. If they automatize things, we will at least have consistent low quality...

Actually I think the use of algorithms to write articles is great, I'm currently working on an anti-article algorithm that extracts just the facts from algorithm-generated articles and turns them into tweets. So instead of having to plough through a long slew of pseudo-intelligent analysis, all you get are the essential sound bytes: "Cat explodes; canary charged by police", that sort of thing. Pretty soon it'll be bigger than Facebook.

Re:Journalism died a long time ago (1)

kmoser (1469707) | about 3 months ago | (#47394765)

Why not just skim the headlines?

Re:Journalism died a long time ago (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47403231)

Haw, haw! Yeah. Dumb journalists I disagree with...

Haha (5, Funny)

binarylarry (1338699) | about 3 months ago | (#47389105)

Maybe not journalists but perhaps slashdot editors?

I keed, I keed.

Kind of.

Re:Haha (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47389265)

Maybe not journalists but perhaps slashdot editors?

I keed, I keed.

Kind of.

This isn't a laughing matter, it's a genuine business proposition.

Auto-generated tech headlines catered to the individual are precisely what will (eventually) toll the death knell for Slashdot.

Re:Haha (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47390075)

Slashdot has always been community-driven, and will be for as long as it lasts. That means the community needs a few carefully edited articles every day.

Re:Haha (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47389273)

I thought timothy was an algorithm.

Re:Haha (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47389365)

I thought timothy was an algorithm.

Block device: /dev/dupe

Re:Haha (0)

eulernet (1132389) | about 3 months ago | (#47389333)

Maybe not journalists but perhaps Dice editors?

FTFY

Re: Haha (1)

Applehu Akbar (2968043) | about 3 months ago | (#47392521)

This does explain Slate, though.

A matter of perspective (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47389113)

The success (if any) of these methods isn't testament to the brilliance of the big data algorithms, it's a scolding of the human intellect that passes as acceptable. Children treat the simplest of behavioral machines like living beings. Apparently it doesn't take much more than syntactically correct text to fool adults into seeing cognitive capability in an algorithm.

Re:A matter of perspective (1)

retchdog (1319261) | about 3 months ago | (#47390679)

Many adults can't even handle that, so it's not surprising, really.

We're in the age of the feuilleton (1)

kruach aum (1934852) | about 3 months ago | (#47389149)

When you hold money above all else, this is what results.

On a less depressing note, I heard about this cool game involving glass beads being developed somewhere in Germany.

Madden-like generated play-by-play technology (2)

frovingslosh (582462) | about 3 months ago | (#47389205)

So, any chance that Madden-like (video) generated play-by-play technology ......

No chance at all. The software is already too intelligent for that, and not nearly bloated enough.

Re:Madden-like generated play-by-play technology (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 3 months ago | (#47389513)

No chance at all. The software is already too intelligent for that, and not nearly bloated enough.

Surely it would be a simple matter of causing it to comment on its observations, rather than conclusions.

Earnings reports are in XML now. (4, Interesting)

Animats (122034) | about 3 months ago | (#47389353)

The SEC started requring companies to file their earnings reports in the Extensible Business Reporting Language a few years ago. At first, it was only for big companies; now it's everybody. The SEC displays this info in a standard format on line. Here are the latest earnings for DICE Holdings [sec.gov] , Slashdot's parent. Here's the raw XML behind that data. [sec.gov] Turning that into verbiage isn't that hard.

I've been doing this for years at Downside.com, extracting the raw data from the human-readable text. This is now obsolete, but it's still running. Here's the same DICE financial statement as processed by Downside. [downside.com] That's Perl code that's been running for 15 years now. When it started, nobody was doing that. Now that everybody in finance has that data, it's probably time to retire Downside's old extraction engine.

Re:Earnings reports are in XML now. (1)

aardvarkjoe (156801) | about 3 months ago | (#47389497)

Here's the raw XML behind that data. Turning that into verbiage isn't that hard.

Not hard, but does it actually make sense to do so? Serious question, since I don't read the reports in question, but if they're so standardized it would seem like it would be easier for everyone involved to just stick with a tabular format of some sort, rather than trying to translate it into a "written" report.

Re:Earnings reports are in XML now. (1)

Animats (122034) | about 3 months ago | (#47391763)

It would seem like it would be easier for everyone involved to just stick with a tabular format of some sort.

Everyone who deals with financial statements professionally does that.

Re:Earnings reports are in XML now. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47389521)

The SEC started requring companies to file their earnings reports in the Extensible Business Reporting Language a few years ago. At first, it was only for big companies; now it's everybody. The SEC displays this info in a standard format on line. Here are the latest earnings for DICE Holdings [sec.gov], Slashdot's parent. Here's the raw XML behind that data. [sec.gov] Turning that into verbiage isn't that hard.

The real problem isn't the robotic writers. The real problem is that the robotic writers are now obfuscating the story, not clarifying it.

What I don't want: "Analysts expect higher profit for Paychex when the company reports its fourth quarter results on Tuesday, July 1, 2014. The consensus estimate is calling for profit of 40 cents a share, reflecting a rise from 38 cents per share a year ago."

What I do want: "PAYX (Paychex): 7/1/14: Q4 $0.40 EPS (beat/misses) consesnsus estimates of $0.xx EPS by ($0.40-0.xx), +$0.02 from $0.38 YoY, and a link to the company's press release if I feel like reading through management's spin on the quarter" That's it. That's all I need or want to know to place a bet if I see it pop up on the feed during market hours. The fewer words, the better. Briefing.com does it right.

And while we're on the subject, here's the robodreck I really loathe: Crap like this (story 1) [thestreet.com] vs this (story 1) [thestreet.com] . In Story 1: Only the first two sentences contain actual content. Everything else is a data dump from a robot. Story 2: Same stock, one day later, and the entire article is a data dump from a robot, including the description of what the company does. Even the headlines "((WHY|NULL)STOCK) (JUST|CONTINUES|IS) ((ADJECTIVE) (TECHNICAL_PATTERN))" are robogenerated. It's pure clickbait and the only reason either was generated was because the stock in question was a large gainer/loser on each of the two days.

TfA is kind of a non-story (3, Interesting)

fightermagethief (3645291) | about 3 months ago | (#47389387)

A computer generating an 'earnings report' seems like a far leap from journalism. A metaphor would be a computer printing a histogram replacing someone who organizes power-point presentations. Maybe completely objective journalists could be replaced by an emotionless computer, but there is a lot of reporting that needs an emotional edge.

We've seen the state of AI. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47389397)

And it's no more coherent than it was winning Jeopardy.

What a shame (1)

HanzoSpam (713251) | about 3 months ago | (#47389951)

The AP's announcement that software will write the majority of its earnings reports, argues The Atlantic's Joe Pinsker, doesn't foretell the end of journalism

What a shame.

Is the algorithm called... (1)

Fnord666 (889225) | about 3 months ago | (#47390457)

Is the algorithm called Hasselton v0.1 by any chance?

The Future is Bleak (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47391453)

No, it won't kill the journalism star...any more than cheap, mass-produced shoes killed the cobbler. There are still a handful of cobblers left in the world. Just a handful.

From another perspective, the algorithms will, at first, give us better, non-bias, unsensational, non-emotional, objective news reports - the stuff journalists don't do anymore - but eventually the same monetary pressures that drove journalism down it's current path will make their way into the algorithms...

PHB: We aren't selling enough papers (wait, that's antiquated)
PHB: We aren't getting enough ad-clicks. Tweak the algorithm to write stories like the humans used to. You know, sensationalist, emotional...and while you're at it, tweak it to downplay or even censor our dirty laundry or the dirty laundry of our political friends.

Trust no one. Not even R2D2 - who is programmed by a fewer number of hands that are even more willing to sacrifice integrity and honor in order to make a buck.

Garbage In Gospel Out (1)

LifesABeach (234436) | about 3 months ago | (#47393457)

AP news reporting confesses that it uses a simple reporting template to generate "news." That's news worthy?

Re:Garbage In Gospel Out (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47395191)

Apparently, even though other places like ESPN have been using these auto-generated articles for years. It's cool, they can use your location information to insert relevant facts, like "so and so player went to this high school" and it 'happens' to be one in your town.

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