Lifestyle & Culture

Artificial Intelligence and the Future of "Human" Journalism

As AI Expands, Journalists Are Looking Over Their Shoulders

17.04.2018 | by Kezia Parkins
Photo by Philip Strong, Unsplash
Photo by Philip Strong, Unsplash

Artificial intelligence is everywhere. The technology has seemingly touched nearly every aspect of our everyday lives – companies such as Dr. Ali Parsa’s Babylon Health are using it to detect and diagnose medical conditions, whereas Phoebe Hugh’s InsurTech firm, Brolly, is using AI to collate data and provide insurance quotes. With the rise of digital media over the past decade, it seems perfectly reasonable to assume that the technology will eventually expand into the complicated world of journalism.

Anxious journalists across the world have observed the growth of artificial intelligence with caution, and it’s clear to see why – news agencies across the world have begun experimenting with bots that are capable of collating massive swathes of information into clear and cohesive news articles. As an example, it has been nearly two years since The Washington Post started to use Heliograf, its own homegrown artificial intelligence technology.

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Originally created to generate hundreds of brief reports on the Rio Olympics, Heliograf has now published well over a thousand news reports for The Washington Post, from congressional and presidential election races to high-school football games and sports results. The absence of a human reporter has yet to impact the popularity of the newspaper’s content: In the first year of Heliograf’s operation, the technology generated over 850 articles amassing over half a million clicks.

Rio Olympics 2016 closing ceremony, LA Times

The Washington Post isn’t alone in their embracing of artificial intelligence. Industry giants such as the Associated Press are currently using robots to automate earnings coverage, whilst USA Today is using the technology to create short videos. What artificial intelligence appears to lack over human reporters is, of course, the ability to analyse and emotionally measure the events going on around them. However, with the huge engagement granted by Heliograf, it could certainly be argued that the technology has no limitations in regard to reaching a wider audience.Pioneers of artificial intelligence have insisted that journalists have nothing to fear of the emerging technology. Media outlets using AI insist that the technology enables journalists to focus on high-value, high-quality content; time spent generating generic news articles could be better spent reporting live or providing journalistic analysis. Covering corporate earnings, for example, is an immensely time-consuming task for any journalist. Thanks to the introduction of AI into newsrooms across the world, journalists have saved up to 20% of their time reporting on this subject — as well as enjoyed added confidence due to the accuracy of the automated systems.

In this case, artificial intelligence is presented not as a threat but as a useful aid and time saver to human reporters. It is impossible to discuss AI’s relationship with journalism without analysing the technology’s impact on revenue. Journalism and digital media have become reliant on advertising profits to sustain their existence – and artificial intelligence has yet to catch up. As it stands, journo-AI is centred upon producing content in mass volume. Ultimately, the technology’s business-to-business applications have not yet been developed. Whilst artificial intelligence has the capability of serving huge and sometimes niche audiences, the concept has not yet progressed beyond the pageview. Where artificial intelligence stops, human intelligence starts. Artificial intelligence is still in its infancy – and the days when the technology will be able to produce analysis and creative features could well be seen in the not-too-distant future.

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Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash
"The real value is using machines to do what they're good at and then presenting that to humans — that's the best of both worlds." Reg Chua, Executive Editor of Editorial Operations, Data and Innovation at Reuters

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