By JORDAN SPARR AND CULLAN STAACK/Montana State News
Algorithms are quickly taking the place of traditional human journalists in many news sources across the industry.
According to a case study done by Automated Insights, an industry leader in producing algorithms for news organizations, the Associated Press is now generating quarterly earnings reports at twelve times the rate previously achieved without employing the use of algorithmic journalists.
The same report states that AP generated only 300 earnings reports per quarter before utilizing the new computer generating journalist bot. After using this new technology, AP started generating 3,700 earnings reports each quarter using the new software developed by Automated Insights called Wordsmith.
Wordsmith, along with similar products produced by competitors such as Narrative Science, are algorithms that scan massive amounts of communication on a given subject to replicate human language within the context required.
According to information provided on Narrative Science’s web page, these algorithms use artificially intelligent (AI) programming to facilitate filling a “neural network” of conventional language within given parameters. This process is intended to mimic the way humans generate language, despite the lack of the brain’s cognitive functions.
A research report by Narrative Science on artificial intelligence within the enterprise sphere sheds light on the extreme increase of AI use in modern businesses. According to the report, projects within the field of AI increased 125 percent between 2014 and 2015.
Along with predictive statistics, the report also sheds light on the fact that 38 percent of companies claim to use AI within their work, while an astounding 88 percent of those companies are already dependent upon AI technologies. Uses such as predictive activity, business state monitoring, and automating tasks to free up time for human employees all make the increase in AI technologies understandable in relation to the surge in productivity.
Andreas Graefe, an expert in the field of automated journalism, details in a report written for the Tow Center for Digital Journalism that the rise in algorithmically generated articles will boost productivity for human journalists in tasks algorithms are less equipped for. Graefe says that automated journalism, “… will likely replace journalists who merely cover routine topics, but will also generate new jobs within the development of news-generating algorithms.”
Graefe also talks about the problems associated with a sudden rise in automated journalism content. He explains how an increase of this sort of media will be somewhat dangerous to consumers, saying it will, “… substantially increase the amount of available news, which will further increase people’s burden to find content that is most relevant to them.”
The report also discusses the possibility of, “… potential fragmentation of public opinion” and “… potential implications for democracy if algorithms are to take over part of journalism’s role as a watchdog for government.”
Madolyn Smith of Data Driven Journalism (a website on emerging technologies in journalism) writes about the upcoming trouble in journalistic transparency in her research for the organization. Smith explains issues including giving credit to the programmer of the algorithm, the news entity which publishes the article, and credit to any human interaction within the article originating from the algorithm’s synthesis to publishing feature.
Smith concludes the matter when she says, “… we suggest in our study a new, consistent and comprehensive policy that distinguishes between an output which is fully generated by an algorithm (algorithmic content generation), to an output generated by an algorithm in collaboration with a human journalist.…”
As this new technology redefines many sides and aspects to the perception of modern journalism, it is important to note that while the ingredients may already be in place for automation, the true repercussions of this rapid change in the publishing of news articles will not be known for some time. Some consequences are already beginning to surface, however, including a report by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation saying that the company Newspoll has already replaced over 100 employees with AI algorithms and automated programs.