Computer-Generated News

Steve Lohr, who reports on technology, business, and economics for The New York Times, looks at news and writing generated from a program created by Narrative Science. Presently, the Narrative Science software writes brief articles based on data drawn from sports, finance, construction, and other industries that have historical data. Eventually, the company intends to improve the quality, and according to Kristian Hammond, a founder of the company and a professor of computer science at Northwestern University,

the combination of advances in its writing engine and data mining can open new horizons for computer journalism, exploring 'correlations that you did not expect' ... [and] 'In five years,' he says, 'a computer program will win a Pulitzer Prize — and I'll be damned if it's not our technology.'

Basically, the computer-generated writing will be equal to that of the best human writing.

I'm not sure whether this event will occur in five years, but it seems likely, as artificial intelligence improves and is able to mimic human reasoning more and more, that it will occur. What does that mean, then? Will all writing, even literature, be undertaken by computers? 

More importantly, as Lohr asks, will such applications "assist human workers or replace them"? It seems more likely that they will replace them. Lohr cites Andrew Reid, a president of Hanley Wood, a publisher for the construction industry, as stating they couldn't afford to hire people to write these articles. The main goal of companies is to increase profits, which can be done in part by decreasing costs. As noted by David Wessel, a columnist for the Wall Street Journal, the large multinational companies in the U.S. are outsourcing their labor to other countries instead of hiring locally:

The companies cut their work forces in the U.S. by 2.9 million during the 2000s while increasing employment overseas by 2.4 million, new data from the U.S. Commerce Department show.

In other words, major companies have replaced almost 300,000 U.S. workers every year over the last ten years with laborers from other countries. And if the new software proves to be cheaper than these new laborers, then the work will be outsourced to software. 

In previous years, it was machines replacing humans. Courtney Myers at writes about this phenomenon, giving examples of mechanized looms replacing the work of textile artisans during the Industrial Revolution and today EZPass replacing toll workers. 

Now instead of machines replacing humans, it's software. Lawyers are being replaced, along with others. At airports, human scanners will be replaced as the Transportation Security Administration is planning to use software instead of human screeners at some scanners in airports. And there's no reason to believe that this process will stop or reverse itself. Hopefully, it won't lead to a world of Terminators