Can AI take over newsrooms?

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The Guardian ran a story recently “A Robot wrote this entire article. Are you scared yet human?” which at first reading would have concerned working journalists. Artificial Intelligence (AI) yet another threat to the workplace!

Although it was an interesting article and experiment, perhaps the headline should have included “Perhaps not quite yet”.

The human editors involved commented that the opinion piece was developed from several different approaches and that although each result was acceptable, they did a “cut and paste” job to come up with the finished article. The intro was also written by the editors so there was a fair amount of human input.

Surprisingly to me, however, they added that over-all it took less time to edit than many op-eds written by humans. Perhaps naively, I thought the quality of contributions to the Guardian would be of a higher standard.

There have been other, similar, examples of writing by AI, but it seems to me that there is still a fair way to go before it takes over completely from good journalists.

I realise I may be getting out of my depth here with a lack of knowledge about the very latest technological developments. And I recognise that as an ex-journo, who enjoys writing and takes pride in it, I am biased.

So yes, AI can already churn out a given number of words on a given topic in a cohesive article, but surely journalism is more than this?

To begin with, AI can only draw on what is available to it on the internet and other devices.

It can’t go to the source (humans), read body language, interpret what is being said, and ask the hard follow up questions if the interviewee tries to cover up. Then contact other sources in developing a news story. And after all, most of the news on the internet is no longer news. You have to get it from the source, if not several sources, before it’s widely available.

News reporting and interesting commentary needs a spark of individual expression, not just writing to a “style”.

The Guardian article prompted me to do a quick on-line search for “AI journalism” and of course there’s countless opinions and studies.

Without spending a lot of time on it, the main take-out I had is that AI does not replace journalists and won’t for some time.

However, it is clearly a very useful journalists’ tool, analysing large data bases, recording information from many sources in a prescribed way to develop reports, alerting journalists to new information on topics of interest.  It can even help identify the issues, trends and stories that the community is interested in.

There are many other ways AI can save journalists time that they would otherwise spend on tedious work. And with the constant cut backs in newsrooms, journalists need all such help as they can get. Including sub editing other people’s badly written op-eds.