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Disrupted Journalism

Artificial Intelligence writing the future

When you sit down to read an article, you tend to assume that it’s been written by another human being. Although creative roles are often thought to be more safe from automation, journalists have been forced to reconsider. Digitalisation, Virtual Reality, the rise of social media and Artificial Intelligence have transformed traditional journalism, changing both reading and writing habits. For the most part, writers have cooperated with innovative technology to improve output and article quality. But for news reporters in particular, this could all be about to change. At the beginning of the month, the Press Association was awarded a £621,000 grant from Google to pursue artificially intelligent news production. The Silicon Valley giants have demonstrated an avid interest in digital journalism through their Digital News Initiative, generously backing media companies. But what does this mean for news reporters, and journalism as a whole?

Fake news. . . Literally
Applying innovative technology within the media is nothing new. In fact, journalism has already been disrupted by Virtual Reality and AI, and arguably for the better. The New York Times, for example, used VR to bring the stories of global refugees to life in the emotive virtual experience, ‘The Displaced’. Initially, though, robot journalism proved problematic. Facebook infamously sacked its entire editorial team and handed the job over to algorithms, which began to fabricate fake news stories. Now, AI powered software is used to ferret out fake news, check facts, and encourage a quick turnaround. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always give the most accurate results. QuakeBot, one of the first robot journalists, wrongly reported the magnitude of a California earthquake by confusing it with another quake in Alaska. It looks like the tech currently applied within journalism is still very much reliant on human editors. What’s different about the computerised news service run by the Press Association, however, is that it has the potential to completely replace human writers. Of course, the technology isn’t fool proof, and the creation of a truly reliable platform will take time. Journalists are also integral to the process, formulating templates and finding stories. However, the entire point of Artificial Intelligence is to analyse data for in depth insights, so the gradual removal of human writers is more than likely to happen.

How will AI and automation disrupt journalism?
Assuming that news reporters are incrementally replaced by smart software, the world of journalism is due for disruption yet again. If you’re a news writer, then perhaps this isn’t the best news. The moment you start talking about AI, unemployment becomes inevitable. Even so, the application of machine learning techniques within news reporting is likely to improve the accuracy of articles, and the rate at which they are written. Chinese journobots Xiaomingbot, for instance, published a total of 450 stories in 15 days during the Rio Olympics. As well as this, artificially produced news stories are also likely to be less arbitrary and more fact focused. At the end of the day, nobody reads a news story for its witty commentary. They want to know the details of an event, concisely communicated. Whether the Press Association and other news agencies will be able to deliver this depends on the accuracy of the software. . . but with Google’s backing, we can safely assume it will be more than adequate. Automated software has the potential to affect other forms of content creation, too. Why bother having a weather reader, for example, if all they are doing is reading from a chart? Why employ an artist if software can create paintings of the same quality as classic impressionists? It’s easy to argue that we’ll always need to keep ‘the human touch’, but AI is edging ever closer to replicating this.

Artificial Intelligence and other disruptive technologies will undoubtedly bring changes to traditional journalism, but not all wordsmiths need to fear imminent automation. Columnists and opinion writers, for example, are far less at risk than those who initially report on factual events. Even so, as machine learning techniques become more advanced, software will learn to communicate in a more convincing, human way. Eventually, it could be virtually impossible to tell whether Laura Cox or an articulate algorithm wrote this article.

Will artificially intelligent software replace news reporters? Should other journalists be worried about automation? Does the potential for positive disruption in the media outweigh the negatives? Comment below with your thoughts.