This column is being written by a human being.
An honest-to God, flesh and blood, living and breathing member of the human race who formulates the words in his brain, then lets them spill off his fingertips onto a computer keyboard sometimes with mixed results.
I mention this because sometime in the not too distant future, what you read --- on your Twitter account, Facebook page, in your daily newspaper --- will have been written not on a computer but by a computer.
This is not the stuff of science fiction. It’s already taking place. Don’t be surprised if you see a byline soon that says “I. Robot.”
To underscore how rapidly the media/communications business is evolving, consider this recent job posting that caused more than a little shock and awe in social media circles.
“…Content Agency is seeking a dedicated individual to join our SmartContent product team as a Content Specialist, to develop and support our news content harvesting robots and classification and management systems… We maintain and enhance a mission-critical data ingestion system that gathers and distributes market-moving, ground-breaking content every day in support of (our) content platforms and enterprise feeds.
“…Work with our team of content specialists and ontologists to craft customized information solutions for our hundreds of clients worldwide. Day to day responsibilities include designing and deploying specialized content harvesting robots, creating and enhancing tools to facilitate data collection, and expanding and refining our industry-leading news ontology.”
A computer science degree would be preferred but the company is also open to people who have studied English or journalism. Although in truth, this person won’t be working for a newspaper but a news curation service.
This posting makes two things clear: (1) Someone had better integrate an editing component into this system so the word “content” doesn’t appear eight times in two paragraphs. And (2) lose the phrase “news content harvesting robots” which sounds like a giant Pac Man hunting down and devouring hapless reporters.
What it means is that news gathering and distribution will be unlike anything we've ever seen. Included in the Brave New World will be stories untouched by human hands.
A company originated by two electrical engineering and computer science professors at Northwestern University automatically generates sports stories using commonly available information such as box scores and play-by-plays.
Along with the text is an appropriate headline and a photo of what the program deems as the most important player in the game.
It’s not a stretch to see this same principal being applied to police and court news, election and political stories, government and agency reporting.
You won’t get much in the way of context, analysis and interviews. And deftly written articles will be rare.
Instead you will be informed, educated and entertained by stories that convey all the insight and readability of a 140-character Tweet.
The Associated Press is already using an automated system to produce quarterly earning stories for its business clients. The AP now publishes 3,000 such stories every quarter — and that number is poised to grow.
James Kotecki is a spokesman for a company called Automated Insights, whose Wordsmith platform generates millions of articles per week. Their partners include Allstate, Comcast, and Yahoo, whose fantasy football reports are automated.
Kotecki estimates the company's system can produce 2,000 articles per second if need be.
Kris Hammond who works for a firm called Narrative Science suggests, with an edge of mischief, that a computer will win a Pulitzer prize within five years, and that 90% of journalism will be written by computer by 2030.
I can hear the nation’s newspaper executives lick their chops as they envision a business with little or no overhead. Just build robots to replace reporters.
All of this puts me square in the middle of the tracks as a giant locomotive called “Progress” speeds toward me.
But before I get run over, I hope someone will develop an algorithm that will collect the works of journalists who actually write their own stories so we can be reminded of what we could lose.
Robert Rector is a veteran of 50 years in print journalism. He has worked at the San Francisco Examiner, Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Valley News, Los Angeles Times and Pasadena Star-News. His columns can be found at Robert-Rector@Blogspot.Com. Follow him on Twitter at @robertrector1.