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When Robots Take Over: Infiltration of the Media

Sarah Henry
Student Writer

automated robot journalism
Photo retrieved from theguardian.com

We shudder as the images of robot overlords are projected upon theater screens, wincing as they enslave the very individuals who brought them to life. As the lights grow dim, we leave the movie theater, and as the harrowing images leak from our minds, we remain unaware that Artificial Intelligence has already escaped Hollywood sci-fi to join the modern workforce.

A company known as Automated Insights employs Wordsmith technology to construct prose from spreadsheets. It uses complicated algorithms rather than creativity, to produce a written literary composition, rather than a list of data to be analyzed. Businesses use Automated Insights services in the fields of E-commerce, real estate, financial services, and marketing agencies.

Recently, this technology has been appropriated by the media.

The Associated Press began using Wordsmith technology to write business quarterly earning articles. These are commonly published on Yahoo without a traditional human byline. The Verge says there are now 3,000 of these stories published every quarter, and the number is only growing.

Since their inception, these clever robots have diversified their skills by taking a liking to sports and weather reporting, exploring increasingly complex stories as the technology increases its elegance. When a 4.7 magnitude earthquake struck near Westword, California, “it took around 3 minutes for the story to appear online,” according to BBC. This feat of accuracy and speed is nearly impossible for a human journalist.

A professor in the Communications Department, Dr. Dixon, has been avidly following the unfolding of this new technology since the early stages of its development. “They’re getting better all the time,” he says. “I see it becoming more than an interesting niche.”

He believes that artificial authors lack the “nuance and creativity” of the human mind, and it takes more than just facts to compose a compelling article. Pitching a successful story involves “thinking creatively about the information, analyzing and presenting it to an audience in an engaging and relevant format”, he says. “So even if a computer can put together a passable sports story, it will never be a great sports writer.”

The 1.2 million industrial robots on the scene in 2013 has continued to grow. Robots are not only practicing their prose but have infiltrated some other careers as well. NBC reports that robots to date have dabbled in pharmaceutical, legal, automotive, interplanetary, and military fields in addition to performing in retail, daycare, and rescue work.

As robots are impervious to boredom and have a much lower margin of error, these mechanical alternatives to a human workforce do offer certain innovations. They do not require salaries beyond the cost of repair, and they are masters of efficiency.

Despite the technical advantages, first-year Early Childhood Education major, Cayla Culler, believes that an electronic approach to childcare heralds dangerous implications. With robotic interactions, children are not exposed to human touch

“Babies thrive off of human contact. Without it, they don’t develop as well as babies who have human, skin to skin contact with their mother,” she says. “This takes away jobs from adults without a college degree who would otherwise go into childcare.”

While robots will continue artificially evolving to improve their resumes beyond human capacity, college students entering the workforce can combat the increasing industrialization by developing strengths that are not manufactured in a lab. By playing to the strengths that define humanity, college students can avoid losing a living to the lifeless contraption.

Dr. Dixon recommends media students develop a certain set of skills to compete in today’s changing robotic workforce. “Students preparing to enter the media today need to think more like publishers, not just like writers. In other words, they need to know more than how to write a competent story. They need to know how to identify stories that appeal to, engage and serve particular audiences, and think holistically about how to provide different kinds of information in different formats via different media. So the robot story doesn’t need to be a threat—it’s just another tool for a publisher/writer, a part of a larger story you were going to tell anyway.”

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